Labour: We’ll build more homes

Sam Cordon

September 24, 2013

Speaking at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton Hilary Benn, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for communities and local government, claimed that Britain’s “housing system is broken” and said the government was not doing enough to support struggling families.

He said: “For the millions of people who dream of owning their own home, Labour will get Britain building again.

“We’re just not building enough homes and yet, in the past few years, the profits of the big house builders have soared.

“Land is too expensive. Too often developers hang on to it hoping for the price to rise. And communities feel powerless.”

Benn said that action must be taken to encourage building and detailed what a Labour government would do to make it happen.

He said: “First, we must admit that we can’t carry on saying on the one hand “where are the homes for the next generation?” and on the other “please don’t build them near me”.

“Nor will we get more homes by top-down targets. Councils and communities must take that responsibility but they need more power to be able to do so.

“Communities should know where land is available. That’s why we will ensure developers register the land they own or have options on.

“And where land is not brought forward for homes, communities should be able to do something about it.

“And when communities have given planning permission they should be able to say to developers: we’ve given you the go ahead so please get on and build the homes you said you would. And if you don’t then we’ll charge you and, if you still don’t, we’ll sell the land on to someone else who will.

“Secondly, there are areas in the country where councils and communities see the need for more homes but there just isn’t the land to build them on.

“So the next Labour government will give those communities a new ‘Right to Grow’, allowing them – if they want – to expand and ensuring that neighbouring areas work with them to do so.”

Benn also said that a Labour government would look to build new communities by building new towns and garden cities. Similar plans were mooted by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg earlier this year.

Benn said: “It’s time to build new communities – new towns and new garden cities. That’s what the great Attlee government did as they started to rebuild Britain and we need that same spirit again.

“So we will invite local authorities to come forward and, in return, we will make sure that they get the powers and the incentives they need to acquire land, put in the infrastructure and build. Build those new communities.”

Labour’s pledge to build more housing has been welcomed by industry figures but the consensus appears to be that there are a number of key issues still needing to be resolved.

Andy Frankish, new homes director at Mortgage Advice Bureau, said: “A Labour pledge to redouble house-building efforts would be welcome news, but there are key questions to answer about affordability and workability.

“Help to Buy equity loans have made newly-built properties affordable to thousands of people at very competitive rates, with the majority of applications coming from first-time buyers outside of London. Does Labour intend for this support to continue until 2020?

Yesterday Labour’s shadow chancellor Ed Balls questioned the usefulness of Help to Buy, echoing the Bank of England and the International Monetary Fund’s concerns that the government is boosting demand without addressing supply issues.

Frankish said: “Many builders are already committed to increase their output and there are no cheats or shortcuts to restarting growth after a recession.

“It takes time to increase the supply of material and labour to meet demand, as well as negotiating planning permission.

“If I was a builder and was expected to commit to building more homes, I would be very nervous about Labour’s wavering position on Help to Buy – a product which has already stimulated house building and captured the public imagination.

“When it comes to ‘basic economics’, politicians have to remember the recent increase in housing demand has only been possible thanks to growing confidence in the market.

“There is a real danger this confidence will be taken away by political point-scoring about a product that is without question good for the customer.”

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