More than a million homes in England that got planning permission in the last 12 years still haven’t been built, FactCheck analysis has found.

Using a methodology developed by the independent Local Government Association (LGA), we looked at the number of homes granted planning approval versus the number of dwellings actually built since 2010-11.

Comparing those totals, we found 1,017,000 homes that should have been finished but haven’t.

Some of these properties will still be under construction – while others will be purely theoretical, with purchased land lying empty, despite developers having the necessary permissions to start work.

Though we understand there could be some cases where planning permissions lapse and another application is submitted for the same site, meaning these could be counted twice in the data.

While the pandemic disrupted many construction projects, the gap between planning approvals and built homes was considerable even before Covid hit. In 2019-20, there was already a backlog of 900,000 “missing” homes.

Why aren’t homes being built if developers have planning permission?

That’s the question Channel 4 News’ Data Correspondent, Ciaran Jenkins put to Darren Rodwell of the LGA.

“Some people can profit from the fact that they can get an outline in planning permission or full planning permission and not build because the land value is greatly increased from that situation”, Cllr Rodwell explained.

There are other reasons, too. Cllr Rodwell said that in some cases, developers aren’t able to build houses “because they feel that the infrastructure is not there to make these houses appealing”. And for some, it’s about the bottom line: “the cost to build has gone up dramatically in the last 12, 18 months”, he explained.

How many more homes do we need?

In 2018, an estimated 4 million households in England were in need of housing, according to analysis by Professor Glen Bramley of Heriot Watt University in a report for the National Housing Federation and the charity Crisis.

Of those, 3.15 million needed a new home because their current accommodation was overcrowded or physically unsuitable for their needs. A further 410,000 needed to move because their current home was so expensive that living there forced them into poverty. Meanwhile, some 250,000 were homeless at the time.

In the twelve months to April 2022, the latest available data, some 232,820 homes were added to England’s housing stock. That’s around 70,000 below the government’s annual target, and more than 100,000 short of what Crisis and the National Housing Federation called for in their 2018 report.

Are we building enough affordable housing?

And it’s not just the number of homes we need – it’s also about the type of properties being built.

The Crisis-NHF report calls for 145,000 extra affordable homes to be built each year.

Since 2010, some 51,000 new affordable homes have been completed each year on average. In the financial year ending April 2022, it was just below 60,000.

A spokesperson for the government told Channel 4 News:

“We are clamping down on developers who are building too slowly, by giving councils new powers to block planning approvals and consulting on new fines.”

“Our target of delivering 300,000 new homes a year remains and we’re investing £11.5 billion to build the affordable, quality homes this country needs. This builds on our strong record of housebuilding, which, in the year before the pandemic, saw 242,700 homes built – a 32 year high.”