Party conferences confront housing shortage

Nia Williams

September 30, 2011

Local authorities could be given the power to charge an additional tax on owners of homes that have been vacant for more than two years said Andrew Stunnell, Liberal Democrat regeneration minister.

He said it was a “crime” that 300,000 properties had been vacant for more than six months, equivalent to two years’ new housing supply, at a time of a chronic housing shortage. Overall, there are 700,000 empty homes in the country, he said.

The government is due to publish its empty homes strategy, which aims to tackle the long-standing problem, in the autumn.

Stunnell added: “Discretionary, naturally. Localist, certainly. With essential safeguards and exemptions, of course. But a nudge to owners to bring abandoned homes back into use, an extra weapon in a council’s armoury in the battle to make better use of our housing stock.”

Labour shadow ministers called for a “new generation of council house building” in order to kick start the economy and provide homes and jobs, at the party’s annual conference in Liverpool.

The calls came as shadow chancellor Ed Balls urged the government to institute a temporary cut in VAT to 5% on domestic refurbishments and for the proceeds of a renewed bank bonus tax to be spent on building 25,000 affordable homes.

Other plans for housing from Labour include applying pressure on mortgage providers to increase home lending.

Caroline Flint, shadow communities secretary for Labour, said: “We should be looking to new models of home ownership. This can only be done if additional finance, particularly from institutional sources, is brought to bear on increasing the supply of new affordable homes.”

The Conservative party conference is scheduled to take place 2 – 5 October.

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