Exclusive: Applications plunge in aftermath of lockdown

The number of planning applications submitted fell sharply during the first eight weeks of lockdown measures in the UK, according to exclusive figures from construction data firm Barbour ABI.

An application site notice. Pic: Getty Images
An application site notice. Pic: Getty Images

The figures, which are not derived from the official government data, show that the weekly number of applications submitted was 45 per cent lower in the week that lockdown began than it had been two weeks earlier.

Overall, Barbour ABI data provided to Planning shows that 94,745 applications were submitted in the eight weeks following Boris Johnson’s March 23 lockdown announcement, a 24 per cent fall on the number submitted in the previous eight weeks.

The second week of March saw 18,839 planning applications submitted, a figure which had fallen 45 per cent to 10,400 by the last week of March, remaining below 12,000 per week for most of April.

The figures cannot be directly compared to official government data, as Barbour ABI’s database only covers development projects with a construction value of at least £100,000, so misses a significant number of householder applications.

However, the figures give a first glance at the likely impact of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown on developers’ planning activity. While the drop in activity is significant, it is less severe than changes in other key development metrics such as residential sales, which have fallen by more than 50 per cent, and residential construction activity, which has been estimated by the Construction Products Association to have slumped by as much as 85 per cent under lockdown.

Official government figures on planning applications are provided on a quarterly basis, with data covering the three months to the end of March not due until late June, and figures covering the April to June quarter not out until September.

Government figures for the last quarter of last year showed planning applications submitted had fallen by seven per cent on the same quarter in the previous year, to 100,300.

Tom Hall, chief economist at Barbour ABI, said the firm was “seeing evidence […] that the planning pipeline is drying up – many have noticed there is a severe lack of new projects. There is a serious risk that projects on-site will be finished but until conditions improve, there may not be a supply of new projects, leading to a collapse in construction activity later in 2020.”

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