Planning permissions for new homes in England and Wales have reached the highest level since 2008, according to figures released today.

The Home Builders Federation’s Housing Pipeline report, published today, found outline planning permission for 43,926 homes was granted in Q1 of this year, raising the moving annual total to 177,731 permissions granted in the12 months to Q1, the highest level since 2008.

The report, produced for HBF by Glenigan, said the Help to Buy scheme had driven up the number of homes being built, but that the government needs to focus its attention on the planning system to continue the increase in house building.

Despite the increase in homes, the number of sites consented has dropped to 679 in Q1 2014, from 807 in the same quarter last year.

The HBF said that the government plans to introduce legislation to remove blockages in the planning system by imposing a limit on the pre-construction conditions that planning authorities could put on permissions which need to be implemented urgently.

There are estimated to be around 150,000 homes awaiting sign-off by local authorities.

Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the HBF, said: “The Help to Buy equity loan scheme has led to a big increase in sales of new homes and the industry has responded and significantly increased output.  

“Existing sites are being built out quicker and we now desperately need new sites to come on stream if we are to see increases in house building sustained. All builders are now identifying the planning system as the biggest threat to further increases in supply.”

The HBF said the Help to Buy equity loan scheme is producing around 2,500 reservations a month.

Allan Wilen, Glenigan’s economics director, said: “The number of homes securing planning approval during the first quarter was 8% up on the level seen a year ago, thanks to a 20% increase in units on private housing schemes that more than offset a 10% drop in social housing approvals.”