In this week's blog, we continue our "educated guesses" recaps and look at some of the day's big stories and how they may or may not fit into some of the big themes we have discussed over the last 12 months and what our seemingly endless prophesizing indicates about where we may be heading in lending and homebuilding, so without further ado, planning.

One of the themes we have repeatedly discussed in our pieces is the varying conflicts of interest slowing down homebuilding across the country due to the nature of the antiquated and often fragmented systems in place and often how different governmental departments, agencies and bodies, all with differing noble missions and goals, can often rub up against both each other and the private sector, creating stalemate situations where everyone is left dissatisfied.

This week, a perfect example of this played out nationally with the row between M&S and Michael Gove. This delicious headline boiled down the issue to what, at a glance, may have been a food hall-based dispute, but in this instance, it was less of a ready meal and more of a failure of ready-made planning that hit the headlines. M&S had been refused permission to knock down its iconic flagship store on Oxford Street even though Westminster council had approved plans to let them demolish their Art Deco building near Marble Arch and upgrade to a more contemporary site.

Now this is a commercial enterprise, so it's a tenuous reach for us to debate this; however, one of the themes we have discussed relating to housing is the polarising objectives of all facets of the planning system, how do you both preserve and progress at the same time and how do you provide clarity to businesses and run an appeals based system? This is an excellent example of a decision that was made and overturned, potentially for noble reasons, but those reasons should have been apparent and addressed before an initial decision was made, and could be, with a sufficiently overhauled and algorithmically driven planning system—some food for thought, que more M&S puns etc.

Moving back into the arena of residential housing stock, The Times recently ran an article citing that 4 out of 5 sizable applications are now facing delays, some up to and beyond two years. Now these are not headlines that will surprise people operating within the home building industry, and not all schemes will be facing these kinds of delays if we are working off the assumption that the bigger the project, the more local objections it will meet, but the interesting thing here is that the narrative is changing around why these delays are occurring. For several years, the post-pandemic malaise, a give-up around office work, was put squarely in the frame for backlogs; the press conjured up images of mountains of paperwork piling up on desks, email-inboxes overflowing, while some Zoom-based national level "early dart" was taking place, but with the benefit of hindsight, was a discretionary system in an age that requires rapid expansion, always just destined to fail? Cross-party, Parliamentarian magazine "The House" made a fascinating point that politics needs to be essentially removed from planning and that a discretionary system will always be too slow, citing the zoning system that New Zealand successfully introduced as a faster, more efficient alternative to solve the backlog crisis.

So what would this look like theoretically? Well, it would be a step back towards what Liz Truss once dubbed "Stalinist" target-based thinking, but that may have been a bit of an unfair comparison on her behalf. If having some vague goals in the system to push things along a bit is somehow comparable to the oppression of millions, it's going to be very difficult to achieve anything, and that 'early dart' may be an idea after all,  but assuming they do take this approach an algorithmically centred zoning system would be the likely tool. Should this be explored, this would create certainty in the system and develop rules enshrined in law that protect the rights of locals, the environment, and the local planning objectives, stimulating private sector homebuilding and diminishing the backlog.

At Invest & Fund, we continue to support the kinds of residential property developers at the epicentre of these changes, offering enhanced development facilities from 5.30% plus the cost of borrowing. So if you currently represent clients with these requirements, let's talk soon.

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