Eleanor Deeley

Joint Managing Director, The Deeley Group

If there's one thing Eleanor Deeley knows, it's construction. She is the joint Managing Director of The Deeley Group, a family-run construction company based in the Midlands and now in its 87th year of trading – a testimony to its strong values of integrity, partnership and community. In her interview with us, she shares some of her insights into – and frustrations with – the planning system.

Eleanor Deeley - Joint Managing Director, The Deeley Group

Talking planning with the Doyenne of the Midlands construction industry

What impact is the current planning regime having on the UK construction sector?

"Part of my frustration with the planning system is the sheer unpredictability it brings to the sector. The planning system is such that developers have no certainty of whether their projects will be on site
over a two-year period: costs could escalate wildly within that time, assuming that planning permission or other vital consents from the statutory authorities are even granted within those two years. As things stand, when buying a site for development, developers have minimal certainty about the costs and timeframes for each construction project.

"Our company is certainly not immune to these issues. At our annual internal Forum meeting, where we bring together all our team to present our upcoming projects, I announced that we had 250 residential units within our residential supply scheduled for construction in the following 3 years. I made this announcement in November – by January we'd had to move the delivery programme for each of these units out by a year or more.

"This was either because of issues concerning reserved matters, or because planning consent has been refused due to the local councils having changed their housing supply numbers or simply because of local plan changes there is no obligation on them to give the go-ahead. We still have the sites, and they are still going through planning, but everything has become incredibly gummed up, and we have no certainty about the timeframes for delivery.

"This represents a real economic loss. Residential property makes up 5% of the UK's GDP, and we as a nation are currently 40% down in terms of delivery of completed housing and 28% down in terms of starting on-site. Our poor planning system is exacting a big cost on the country's coffers."

Is there an industry-standard in terms of monitoring how long a project takes from planning consent to handing over the keys?

"There isn't an industry-standard in terms of monitoring it. What is usually monitored is the number of consents given, when starts on sites are and when completion has been achieved. What isn't registered – and this is really difficult for a lot of developers – is that you can have a resolution to grant, but it might have 61 conditions attached to it. And it might take you two years to resolve all of these.

"The situation has been exacerbated by the change in the government stance over whether councils' master plans for growth and development are going to be adopted. Thirty-three local authorities have since failed to adopt their local plans as a result of this announcement. If councils were to just stick to the plan, it would be fine, and we would manage within that framework. It's not like we are trying to bypass the process. But councils are struggling even to implement what is in the plan. And it doesn't help that councillors don't really understand the planning system when they really, really ought to. It's a situation that is unlikely to improve in the run-up to the next general election."

We'll be releasing a longer interview with Eleanor, where she shares the current issues affecting the construction industry, and what it means to her to help manage the fortunes of a well-respected, regionally rooted family business.

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