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Unlocking the door

Last year in the UK, 100,000 too few houses were built.Most housing experts agree that 220,000 to 250,000 new homes are needed each year in the UK to meet demand. In 2014, the figure was not quite 141,000.The problem isn’t new – for more than two decades the gap between supply and demand has been fairly constant. So why are we still missing the target by so much?Consistently cited as one of the major stumbling blocks is the planning system, which is seen as slow, bureaucratic and a barrier to growth. According to the organisation that represents the house building industry, the Home Builders Federation:“While it is absolutely true that the general economic climate and current restrictions on credit have been a major factor in the housing market since late 2007, there can be no doubt that our historic undersupply of homes – over some 20 years at least – is a result of a planning system which has not been fit for purpose for some time – this was the conclusion of the Barker Review of housing supply back in 2004.”But now plans are in place to help improve the system. At the start of the year, Terraquest, part of Mears Group was appointed to run the Government Planning Portal aimed at speeding up the planning applications process.The planning portal was set up in 2003 with the aim to “provide a one-stop-shop supplying answers, services and information to anyone involved in the planning process – from home owners and businesses to planning professionals and Government officials.”Now, almost 90% of applications in England and Wales go through the Planning Portal system.“The Government needed a partner to take the Planning Portal and develop it further,” says Geoff Keal, Managing Director of TerraQuest.“Our plan is to make the Portal smarter and more efficient by using better technology. For example, we’ll look to provide a planning validation system designed to weed out mistakes or anything that will slow down applications.“We’ll also introduce an online payment system – currently applicants still have to send in cheques, which is an unnecessary cause of delays. All the changes are designed to speed up the process and make it more user-friendly.”TerraQuest has an established history in delivering planning application and enforcement services to local authorities. Its Planning Application Validation Service (PAVS) assesses electronic and paper planning applications against national and local planning polices, and directly uploads them to local authority systems or the Planning Portal.TerraQuest will now work with the Government to form a new company which will take on the management and day to day running of the Planning Portal.Currently, 365 local authorities use the Planning Portal and last month it received a record number of applications – 40,624, an almost 20% rise from 12 months ago. So the implications for an improved planning system are enormous.“Every one recognises the need to address the housing crisis and tackle the shortfall in new homes being built,” said Geoff. “We are still only building around half the number of new homes the country needs. A smarter, more efficient Planning Portal can help shift one the major stumbling blocks to building enough houses and encourage economic growth.”


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