Government ‘complacent’ over aggregate needs for housebuilding

Aggregates industry questions Government’s commitment to new homes given “apparent complacency” over aggregate availability and present planning processes.

Building Site 08

One of the UK’s most established aggregates providers says its industry needs greater Government support if 300,000 homes are going to be built in Britain each year.

Cullimore Group makes its claim citing growing concern across the aggregates industry at the “huge reality gap” between what the Government is promising and what’s actually happening on the ground.

The gap is cited as most evident where Government orders a “too little, too late” enquiry into land banking by builders to ease construction regulations – with no similar assurances for the aggregates industry.

Cullimore Group goes as far as questioning the Government’s commitment to solving the housing crisis given its “apparent complacency” about the availability of aggregate volumes and present planning processes.

And Cullimore is backed by the British Aggregates Association (BAA), following their scrutiny of the Government’s “Housing White Paper”, released for consultation earlier this year.

There’s alarm in particular at the complete absence of any reference to the critical contribution of aggregates supply in meeting any Government plans to boost housing stocks.

Aggregates and minerals are vital in the supply of material for both building materials and the groundworks necessary for housing developments.

Cullimore Group MD Moreton Cullimore believes such complacency is widespread throughout not just central Government but councils local authorities also.

“There seems to be a high degree of complacency about what’s potentially and actually available for extraction.

“Just because mineral deposits are located within a council’s designated area of preferred search it doesn’t mean they will ever be released or realised.

“Councils need to get away from thinking, it’s ok we’ll always have another site available to extract aggregates when we need them, as that time may never come.”

Worse still, there are many other pressures compounding the availability and ability to extract aggregates and minerals from the ground,” he said.

Mineral land banks held by landowners are a specific issue identified by the industry.

Cullimore cites some county councils such as Worcestershire as trying to do more to target landowners and boost material supplies for the construction industry including sand, gravel, clay and hard rock.

“But unless they have strong enough incentives to sell, most landowners will prefer to keep their minerals locked under the ground..

“Current planning rules are complicated, which is why many builders are sitting on banks of land with permission to develop, but are not doing so.

“And Philip Hammond’s overdue request in asking Sir Oliver Letwin MP to head up an enquiry to sort this out, is all a bit little, too late.

“But even if the regulations are eased for those wanting to build, no similar assurances have been offered for the aggregates industry.

Presently, landowners that do choose to sell typically face a raft of planning checks, including archaeological, arboricultural, wildlife and hydrological surveys requiring completion, that need to be carried out before permission to extract minerals can be granted.

In contrast to the Government’s much publicised 18-month time frame, this can actually take up to five years, with four years planning and a further 12 months dealing with pre-commencement conditions set by the council before any ground preparation can commence.

According to the Mineral Products Association a ‘Cutting Red Tape’ review of mineral extraction was implemented by the Government in 2015, but this stalled despite early progress with Government, industry and regulators.

Consequently, issues around planning permission and the often-disproportionate bias towards pressure groups such as the ‘Green Alliance’ and the ‘Campaign to Protect Rural England’ all too frequently conspire to thwart a rapid planning process.

Peter Huxtable, Secretary of the British Aggregates Association, is keen to emphasise this point.

“The Government should take greater care when affording special protection to sites.

“Reviewing their latest Housing White Paper, we were concerned to see ‘Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS)’ given the same level of protection as ‘Ancient Woodlands’.

“This is despite many of those plantations containing only commercial coniferous woodlands encouraged by Government policy in the 1950s.

“It’s unnecessary red tape such as this, which is so damaging to the availability and supply of aggregates,” he said.

Both the Cullimore Group and the BAA believe that the Government and local councils could be doing much more to reduce these pressures.

“There needs to be a reality check and a greater sense of urgency about what’s happening at ground level.

By increasing incentives for landowners and shortening the planning time-frames involved, Government can help boost the volume of aggregates available for the construction industry and therefore speed up the building of new homes,” Cullimore said.

Whilst Brexit is currently one of UK’s major preoccupations right now, he believes it could potentially bring benefits to the aggregates industry in terms of mineral availability.

“If following Brexit, we decide to leave the Common Agricultural Policy, there could potentially be more land available for development.

“Currently there’s a huge disparity between what the Government is communicating about housing and the reality of what we’re seeing with natural resources.

“Brexit could be a very good opportunity for the aggregates industry, but only if we solve the other issues holding it back first.

“We want to help the Government, but they need to do more to support our industry first.

This is no time for complacency, they must act now, if they are to meet Philip Hammond’s ambitious target for fixing the housing shortage,” he said.