The CSO has reported on planning permissions for Q4 2010 and 2010 as a whole.  The number of planning permissions Q4 2010 for houses is down -37.5% on Q4 2009 (3,457 to 2,159), apartments are down -47.6% (1,507 to 790) between the same periods.  The overall difference is -40.6%.  For 2010 as a whole, house permissions are down -56.7% and apartment permissions are down -50% on 2009.  With reference to 2007, and the tail end of the boom, the number of unit permissions in 2010 has dropped -81.5% for houses (62,828 to 11,604) and 68.1% for apartments (21,569 to 6,874).  The total number of planning permissions for all developments Q4 2010 was down from 5,137 to 4,373 (a drop of -14.9%).  For 2010 as a whole, total permissions were down -27.6% from 2009, permissions for extensions were down -16.4%.

Given the state of the economy and property sector this isn’t any great surprise.  Nor is the pattern of permissions, with 43.6% of all housing unit permissions in Q4 2010 for one-off houses.  For 2010 as a whole, one-off houses accounted for 48.1% of house unit permissions (5,582 units).  In 2007, one-off houses were 29.5% of all house unit permissions (18,555 of 62,828 units).  One-off permissions in 2010 are thus down -69.9% from 2007 levels.  In terms of what was actually built in 2010, one-off housing constituted 63.2% of all houses built – 7,914 of 12,514 (DEHLG 2011).

Regardless of the decline in one-off permissions from the height of the boom, a debate seems desirable on how sustainable this pattern of permissions/build is over the long term.  On the one hand are arguments relating to individual rights, culture and ‘way of life’, and on the other, the costs of servicing one-off houses, the costs to the environment and landscape, and the vulnerability of dispersed, long commuting populations to rising oil prices.  This is clearly a contentious and highly politicised issue, but then what planning issue isn’t?  Our strategy so far has largely been to ignore such debates and plough on with a laissez faire approach designed to sate local demand and leverage councillor’s votes.  As for whether we need to be awarding any permissions at all, given the vacancy and under-construction rates of both residential and non-residential property in the state, also seems like a debate worth having – on the one hand, the construction industry is in severe difficulties and needs investment, on the other the solution to over-supply is not more supply (and scare stories about there only being between 1 to 12 months supply in most areas by some vested interests lacks compelling evidence and credibility – see our post here).

One anticipates, given the state of the property market and the lack of access to credit for construction projects, that the planning permission figures for 2011 will continue their downward trend.  At least this might give us some breathing space for thinking about what kind of planning system and pattern of development we want.  The present government’s line seems to be to undo the good parts of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act, that tried to tighten up the laissez-faire elements, and head back to the planning system that operated during the boom.  If that’s the kind of planning system we want, then we deserve what its outcomes will be.

Rob Kitchin