Lisa Nandy has slammed the government over reports that it plans to scrap mandatory housebuilding targets, arguing that the move would be “unconscionable” amid the UK’s ongoing housing crisis.
Michael Gove has now confirmed that the government’s flagship levelling up bill will be amended to water down housebuilding targets. The move will reportedly see centrally determined targets become a “starting point”, with councils able to propose building fewer homes if they face “genuine constraints”.
Commenting on the initial reports, the Shadow Levelling Up Secretary said: “If this is true, it would be unconscionable in the middle of a housing crisis.
“We offered Labour votes to defeat the rebels, but Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove seem to have chosen party before country. This is so weak. The Prime Minister and cabinet are in office but not in power.”
The government’s plan to set a target of building 300,000 houses each year faced strong opposition from Tory backbenchers. A Commons vote on the levelling up bill was abandoned last month after 60 Conservative MPs backed an amendment calling for the mandatory target to be scrapped.
Theresa Villiers, who tabled the amendment, said today: “The government has listened and will amend planning rules so that councils which are subject to genuine constraints will be permitted to reduce their [housing] target.
“This will apply if meeting the centrally determined target would significantly change the character of an area, for example from suburban to high-rise urban. The compromise we have secured shows that positive change can be achieved through backbench scrutiny of legislation.”
The Centre for Cities think tank concluded in a report published last week that the UK’s “chronic” housing shortage is “one of the biggest challenges the country faces”.
The report argued that the UK is not experiencing a single national housing crisis but “many localised housing crises” centred on the country’s most economically successful cities and towns and caused by how the planning system “disconnects the local supply of housing from local demand”.
Nandy declared during her speech to party conference that tackling the housing crisis will be her “priority” because “nothing is more important than a home”.
The Labour frontbencher told conference delegates: “The Tories have turned housing into a racket. Incentivising speculation and profiteering while millions languish on waiting lists in cold damp homes. So we will mend the deliberate vandalism of our social housing stock.”
She announced that Labour in government would be “the first government in a generation” to restore social housing to the second largest form of tenure, adding: “This will be our mantra. Council housing, council housing, council housing.”
Labour has set out plans to “significantly boost” the building of council homes and reform purchasing rules to “rebalance power between developers and communities and bring in a new generation of council house building”.
The opposition’s housing plan will look to “rebalance the market towards first-time buyers and working families” by working with lenders to introduce a system where meeting rent payments will be included in mortgage affordability tests.
The party is also proposing to expand new models of sub-market home ownership, including shared, discounted ownership and community-led and cooperative models of ownership.