Permitted homes not being built
Published: 24 Feb 2020

Research undertaken by the Local Government Association (LGA) has discovered that over one million homes, which have all been granted planning permission, are not being built. The analysis found that since 2009/2010, 2,564,600 homes have been given planning permission, and only 1,530,680 were actually built.

Although there can often be a delay between granting planning permission and actually completing a house, the latest figures suggest there is a slow down in completions.

In recent years, politicians have been trying to address planning legislation to make it easier to build homes. This is in response to a reported housing shortage across England. However, the statistics show that planning is not a barrier to building homes.

A planning white paper is expected to be introduced in the spring and the LGA is urging the Government to use the paper to grant powers to take action on land that has planning permission but the development is not being done. In particular, it suggests that councils should be able to compulsory purchase land if homes have not been built. The councils should also be allowed to charge developers a tax for every un-built property once planning permission expires.

Given that there is a shortage of housing, the key is trying to find a way to encourage builders to complete the developments they have sought permission for. Given that planning applications for larger housing developments can cost a developer quite a lot of money, it is surprising that more developments aren't complete.

Housing spokesman for the LGA David Renard said, "The planning system is not a barrier to house building. The number of homes granted planning permission has far outpaced the number of homes being built. No-one can live in a planning permission, or a half-built house where work on a site has begun but not been completed.

"Councils need powers to tackle our housing backlog and step in where a site with planning permission lies dormant and house building has stalled. If we are to solve our housing shortage, councils need to be able to get building again and resume their role as major builders of affordable homes.

"It is also vital that the planning process is protected, so that councils and communities can ensure we realise the Government's ambition of building beautiful homes, which includes the necessary infrastructure and affordable housing."

In recent years, the Government has been relaxing planning legislation in order to increase the number of homes that can be built, which could potentially raise questions about whether the homes would be suitable, especially if professional planners are losing powers to advise on appropriate development. However, the figures released by the LGA suggest that there is little to worry about on the planning side. The issue remains with the completion of buildings, which lies outside of the control of the planning system.

Wessex Water offered to pay an enforcement undertaking of £35,000 towards environmental improvements at Stoborough Heath nature reserve after a sewer main burst in January 2018, which polluted a surface water ditch.

Stoborough Heath is a National Nature Reserve owned and managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and Natural England. The reserve has numerous water-filled ditches rich in plant and animal life.

The pollution had a severe impact on aquatic invertebrates over a distance of approximately 100 metres, deteriorating water quality. This was shown from raised levels of ammonia and sewage fungus in the ditch. There was no impact on the main watercourse.

Wessex Water reported the incident and later admitted an unauthorised discharge of sewage to surface water ditch contrary to the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations SI 2016/1154.

Wessex Water has since spent £50,000, installing a burst detection system along the rising main that caused the pollution in 2018.

Janine Maclean of the Environment Agency discussed the enforcement undertaking and commented that the burst rising main at Stoborough had a clear and significant impact on Stoborough Heath.

"The £35,000 enforcement undertaking has ensured local charities and projects benefit and will be spent on improving the local environment.

"The burst detection system installed by Wessex Water will ensure any future bursts will be detected earlier and prevent significant damage should a similar incident occur in the future".

An enforcement undertaking is a civil sanction used in less serious cases where it is not in the public interest to prosecute. They are used to:

  • change behaviour;
  • ensure future compliance;
  • put right any environmental harm;
  • benefit those impacted;
  • improve the environment.

The Environment Agency accepted Wessex Water's offer of £25,000 to the RSPB. The money will be spent on ditch and wetland habitat restoration at Lytchett Fields, and heathland management at the RSPB's nearby Arne reserve.

The company also offered £10,000 to Dorset Wildlife Trust as a contribution towards environmental improvements as part of the Poole Harbour Catchment Partnership Project. Wessex Water also carried out further actions to benefit an impacted third party.

It was agreed to pay the Environment Agency its legal costs of £2,497.30.

A self-employed gas fitter has been jailed following unsafe work on gas appliances while unregistered.

In November 2014 the gas fitter was handed a Prohibition Notice by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which banned him from carrying out any gas work unless he gained the necessary competence and registered with the Gas Safe Register.

Following an investigation by the HSE, it was found that between 2 March 2018 and 22 March 2019, the gas fitter carried out work on gas appliances at seven addresses across England, and in one occasion he used a false name. His unsafe work was even featured on the BBC Watchdog programme.

The inspection found several defects on each gas appliance that the man worked on, including incomplete and defective flue joints, flues not sealed to the building structures, and dangerous decommissioning of a back boiler, all of which put the safety of the homeowners and their families at risk.

On sentencing, the gas fitter pleaded guilty to several offences under the Health and Safety At Work etc. Act 1974 and Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations SI 1998/2451.

Whilst on bail awaiting sentence he carried out more gas work whilst unregistered and subsequently pleaded guilty to two additional offences under the same legislation. He was jailed for 16 months.

Speaking following the hearing, HSE inspector Anthony Banks said that the gas fitter "knowingly defrauded homeowners and purposely misled them into thinking he was registered with Gas Safe Register".

He had "been warned on national television that he was breaking the law. The work he did was unsafe and he put several families at risk. It is only a matter of chance that no one was seriously harmed".

"All gas work must be done by registered Gas Safe engineers to ensure the highest standards are met to prevent injury and loss of life. The public should always ask to see the gas engineer's identification and check the registration number online or ring the Gas Safe Register customer helpline".

On 17 February 2020 the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy confirmed a £1.2 bn investment for a state-of-the-art supercomputer to help predict severe weather and the impacts of climate change faster and more accurately.

The data obtained by the new supercomputer will be used to help more accurately predict storms, select the most suitable locations for flood defences and predict changes to the global climate more accurately.

The new machine, which will be managed by the Met Office, will help through:

  • more sophisticated rainfall predictions helping the Environment Agency rapidly deploy mobile flood defences;
  • improved forecasting at airports so they can plan better for the potential disruption; and
  • more detailed information for the energy sector to help them mitigate against potential energy blackouts and surges.

The investment will replace Met Office supercomputing capabilities over a 10-year period between 2022-2032, as the current Met Office Cray supercomputers will reach their end of life in late 2022. The first phase of the new supercomputer will increase Met Office computing capability by 6-fold alone. It is expected that the contractual value of the supercomputing capability will cost around £854 million, while the remaining amount of the £1.2 bn will provide for investment in Observations Network and the programme office costs.

Secretary of State and newly appointed COP26 President Alok Sharma said: "Over the last 30 years, new technologies have meant more accurate weather forecasting, with storms being predicted up to five days in advance.

"Come rain or shine, our significant investment for a new supercomputer will further speed up weather predictions, helping people be more prepared for weather disruption from planning travel journeys to deploying flood defences".

The new supercomputer will also aim to strengthen the UK's supercomputing and data technology capabilities, driving forward innovation and growing world-class skills across supercomputing, data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

A car retailer based in the South East of England has been fined after a car bodywork sprayer developed occupational asthma.

West Hampshire Magistrates' Court heard that in October 2011 and March 2018, an employee of Harwoods Limited at Audi Southampton, had been spraying, using paints that contained isocyanates without adequate control measures in place. Isocyanates are classed as substances hazardous to health, exposure to which can lead to the development of asthma which can have serious life-changing effects.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company had failed to ensure adequate control measures were in place to minimise exposure to paints containing isocyanates, therefore exposing the employees to the risk of asthma.

Harwoods Limited pleaded guilty to breaching the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations SI 2002/2677 (COSHH), were fined £120,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,657.55.

HSE inspector Nicola Pinckney commented: "This serious health condition could so easily have been avoided by simply implementing correct control measures and appropriate working practices".

"Controlling employee exposure to hazardous substances is a legal requirement on employers and HSE provides guidance on how control can be achieved".

"Appropriate controls could include use of a spray booth to carry out the paint spraying, use of a suitable air-fed respirator, checks to ensure equipment was adequately maintained and training provided to ensure the employee knew the risks and how to control them".

A man from Kent has been fined over £1,700 for unlicensed fishing and public order offences.

The man had pleaded not guilty to charges of unlicensed fishing and using threatening, abusive and insulting words towards an Environment Agency Fisheries Enforcement Officer at Hawkhurst Fishery in June 2019. However, following evidence by a member of the Voluntary Bailiff Service and an Environment Agency officer, the man was convicted at Hastings Magistrates Court of the offences in January 2020. The court imposed a total penalty of £1723.11.

The court heard how the man had been using four rods and was seen to reel in one of these by the Environment Agency officer. The man did not have a licence for the fourth rod, and became abusive and threatening as the officer issued an offence report form. The Environment Agency officer was joined by the Volunteer Bailiff which decreased the mans initial aggression.

The man had 72 previous convictions, including a prosecution for unlicensed fishing in April 2019.

A spokesperson from the Environment Agency said: "Abusive and threatening behaviour towards Environment Agency Officers and volunteers working with us will not be tolerated".

"We will not hesitate to take enforcement action against anyone who attempts to intimidate officers or volunteers in this way. Anyone wishing to use 4 rods, where allowed, should ensure all are licensed".

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