(Bloomberg) -- John Lewis Partnership Plc said it will appeal after a local council failed to decide on a housing proposal that’s come under attack by public interest groups. 

The owner of the Waitrose supermarket chain submitted the build-to-rent plan almost a year ago for 428 homes above one of its outlets in West Ealing, a district in West London, but the proposal is still under review by the Ealing Council. That is long past the statutory 13 weeks within which such applications need to be resolved. 

“We believe we have strong grounds to be successful given the opportunity to transform an under-used brownfield site” close to a commuter rail station, said Katherine Russell, director of build-to-rent at John Lewis Partnership. “An appeal is not something we take lightly.”

The London-based company, which has teamed up with Abrdn Plc for funds, says the plan addresses a rental housing shortage that’s become increasingly “acute” in London. However, some “not-in-my-backyard” groups in the neighborhood — such as Stop the Towers — say the buildings will be too tall and won’t include enough affordable housing. A public consultation last year saw 96% of residents objected to the plan, according to a local news report.

“The council has consistently raised a number of concerns with this application and the applicant has previously been keen to extend time for determination while dialogue continued to see if those concerns could be addressed,” a spokesperson for Ealing Council said. “It is extremely disappointing that they now seem to have decided to appeal non-determination rather than wait for a local decision.”

The stalled proposal is the latest example of Britain’s broken planning system, which is set to be one of the key issues for political debate ahead of a general election next month, with both main parties blaming it for restricting housing delivery. Some 80% of major planning applications were not resolved within the statutory time period of 13 weeks between October and December last year, according to government statistics. 

A Bloomberg News investigation in April found that taxpayers are paying the most on record to cover the cost of such appeals by developers as applications, coming under attack by local residents, get turned down by authorities. The share of rejected planning applications ultimately overturned on appeal rose to more than 30% last year, the highest proportion in at least a decade.

A lack of staff and funding in local authority planning departments is also causing delays.

The West Ealing plan is part of a wider effort by John Lewis to build 10,000 UK homes and become a key player in the domestic build-to-rent property market. The project, located roughly 350 meters from a new Elizabeth Line railway station, comes as the UK’s rental market increasingly relies on institutional investment to plug the gap left by an exodus of small landlords.

The company is also planning to deliver hundreds of homes in the London Borough of Bromley and a vacant warehouse site in Reading.

Still, the company axed plans to earn 40% of profits from outside retail by 2030 earlier this year — which would have included its build-to-rent ambitions — citing a gloomier economic backdrop.

(Updates with comment from Ealing Council in fifth paragraph.)

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