In 2020 we have all become experts in graphs and data. But while we’re all glued to the briefings from No. 10 there has been another interesting set of numbers that all but the die-hard planners amongst us may have missed.
The Planning Portal is used across England and Wales to submit around 90% of all planning applications. Recently, the Planning Portal has begun to release monthly data; and it provides a fascinating insight into the underlying sentiment and drivers in the industry.
Have we all hung up our spades? Or are we build, build, building?
Back in April the portal reported a slight dip in applications consistent with previous years. Clearly we were all continuing to work, although by this time of course that was from the comfort of our kitchen table (and quite often with the assistance of a small child or family pet in tow).
But then in May, the Planning Portal released the first of their more detailed reports, and it was clear that as the weeks of Lockdown 1.0 went on, the rate of applications unsurprisingly fell. Sharply. But, almost as quickly as they fell, June showed a slight improvement across much of the country. However, the figures overall were still well below the average. Well below.
And with that we went into Summer, which typically triggers the usual slowdown in activity.
But this is 2020 – the ‘unprecedented’ year. And in that spirit, a strange thing happened. The Planning Portal data began to show a strong surge in applications. Applications went from well below the average in May, to well above the average from June onwards. Rather than the traditional summer slowdown, the rate of applications was up, and has continued well above average right up until now.
So what is driving this apparent rebound?
Some applications being submitted were obviously those that had been put on hold during lockdown 1.0. However, full and outline applications in general have been slow to recover. The ‘recovery’ over the summer has largely been driven by an increase in householder related applications. With no immediate end in sight to ‘WFH’, and people sick of sharing the kitchen table with their kids, many of us have turned to home improvements.
This is good, right?
We are currently in the middle of lockdown 2.0 and the word ‘unprecedented’ cannot be over-used in 2020. Planning statistics have proved no exception to that. And while any form of economic recovery is to be welcomed, this does have to be set against the backdrop of local authorities on the frontline of the pandemic. Already the indications are that some councils are struggling – with delays in validations and backlogs of larger applications at committee. As you will have probably worked out, if finite local authority resources are being overwhelmed by high turnover, low-level domestic applications, there is less space in the working week to progress the type of applications that the majority of our readership are concerned with. The need to adequately resource the public sector has never been more crucial so that together the property industry as a whole can move into recovery.