Changing Britain Together: Building homes

12th December, 2014 4:44 pm

For millions of people across the country, buying a decent home at a price they can afford is an aspiration which feels like an ever-more distant dream.

For decades we have not built enough homes as a country, so tackling the housing crisis will not be easy. But it’s also the case that this Tory-led Government is clearly not up to the job.

On taking office, the government claimed it understood the need to build more homes. The then Housing Minister, Grant Shapps, even boasted that the ‘gold standard’ upon which they would be judged would be building more homes than Labour. Yet, under David Cameron, house building has fallen to its lowest levels in peacetime since the 1920s and his government has built fewer homes in every year than any year of the last Labour government.

Public_Housing

The failure to build the homes our country needs means home ownership has fallen to its lowest level for 30 years. A record number of young people are living at home with their parents into their twenties and thirties, and nine million people rent from a private landlord with little stability, rising rents and letting agent fees. Meanwhile well over one million families languish on council house waiting lists with the number of homes for social rent built last year the lowest for over two decades.

In September, Ed Miliband laid out six long-term goals for the next Labour government which included an ambitious goal on housing. Our goal is to double the number of first-time buyers getting onto the housing ladder each year by 2025 – and to be building as many homes as we need for the first time in fifty years.

To meet our goal and tackle the housing crisis, we have set out a comprehensive plan to get at least 200,000 homes built a year by 2020, providing up to 230,000 jobs in construction.

We’ll do this by first ensuring that all councils produce a plan for homebuilding in their area and allocate sufficient land for development to meet the needs of local people. No council should be allowed to duck its responsibility to meet the housing needs of the local community they serve.

Next, we will give local communities new powers to get new homes built. We will give local councils the power to designate new ‘Housing Growth Areas’ in which they will be able to assemble land, commission development and deliver the homes their communities need. Local authorities will be able to reserve a proportion of homes built for first-time buyers within these areas. Councils will also be able to set-up New Homes Corporations across local authority areas so they can deliver large sites at pace. We will also enable communities to charge developers where planning permission has been given but there is no activity on the site, with in the most serious cases a ‘use it or lose it’ power to compulsorily purchase the site and sell it on to someone who will build.

To support this new approach to development, we’ll need more private sector builders to help get the homes built. So we will back SME builders by increasing their access to finance and land. We will create a Help to Build scheme which will allow them to access lower-cost bank lending supported by Treasury guarantees, and through a fast-track planning system for smaller developments of 10 homes and under.

Crucially, we’ll build more affordable homes by prioritising capital investment in housing, moving to single-pot funding and devolving resources and powers to local councils. We’ll also extend the affordable homes guarantee programme, speed up the use of public land and make provision for councils to have greater flexibility to deliver council homes.

Finally, learning from the post-war experience, we will set up a rolling programme to deliver new Garden Cities and large-scale Garden Suburbs across the country – the Lyons review predicts that this could deliver up to 500,000 new homes.

But it is not just about building more homes, it is also about tackling unfairness elsewhere in the housing market. With more people renting from a private landlord than ever before, too many people are faced with insecurity, high rents and rip-off letting agent fees. That’s why we will give private renters a fairer deal by scrapping letting agent fees on tenants and guaranteeing longer term three-year tenancies with predictable rents. Labour will also tackle the blight of empty homes by giving councils more power to charge higher rates of council tax on empty properties, and ensure new homes are advertised in the UK first, not overseas. And we will scrap the unfair and cruel Bedroom Tax.

Next May, we will face a choice between two very different visions for our country. David Cameron and George Osborne’s vision is of an economy that works only for the wealthy few, with public spending back to the levels of the 1930s, an ongoing and growing housing shortage and no action to tackle the cost-of-living crisis. Labour’s vision is of an economy that works for everyday people, a balanced plan to clear the deficit, secure the future of our NHS and make sure everyone can get a decent home at a price they can afford.​

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