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90% of councils 'won't meet Government housing targets'

Nearly 90% of local authorities believe they will not be able to meet the Government's housing targets because of a lack of resources in their planning departments, new research suggests.

Some 64% of builders also see a lack of manpower in planning as a barrier to developing smaller sites, according to a report by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) and the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU).

The research also suggests that builders would be willing to pay higher fees for planning applications, in order to give councils the cash injection necessary to hire more officers.

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said: "Both local authorities and SME builders identify under-resourcing as a key barrier to allocating more small sites and getting planning permissions in place on them.

"Too often, small sites are dealt with entirely by inexperienced officers. There simply aren't enough senior and experienced planners to make the system work effectively.

"The Government deserves some credit for the priority it is now placing on house building, but unless planning departments have enough experienced planners on the ground, our housing targets will be nothing more than aspirational."

The Government wants to build one million new homes by 2020, with less than 500,000 having been built between 2011 and 2014.

The report looked at unlocking development on smaller sites, where most councils currently deliver less than 40% of their housing.

Around 200 councillors, local government officials and builders were interviewed as part of the survey.

As well as raising planning application fees, the report also calls for councils to share staff across regions, as well as putting more of an emphasis on smaller development sites.

Jonathan Carr-West, chief executive, LGiU, said: "There is a large untapped potential in small sites, but resource and capacity pressures in planning departments make it difficult to unlock.

"We need new approaches and new partnerships to build the homes we need.

"By working with a wider range of local builders, councils can stimulate local economic growth, while providing jobs and training for young people in the area."

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: "The reality is we're getting Britain building again, with almost 900,000 homes delivered since the end of 2009.

"Our planning reforms have delivered over a quarter of a million planning permissions over the last year - the highest on record and up nearly 70% on five years ago.

"Our housing White Paper, which is due to be published in January, will set out our plans to build even more homes, more quickly."

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