This chronic shortage of housing is having an impact across the country. Young people and families are struggling to get on the property ladder. Those renting privately are now having to pay record sums, on average 41% of their income just to keep a roof over their heads. It’s also affecting those who want to upsize to a bigger home but are finding they can’t bridge the gap between what they own and where they want to move to. And for those who have just joined a waiting list for a social home, there are 1.7 million families already in the queue
That’s why, last year, Ed Miliband set a target for the next Labour government to build over 200,000 homes a year by 2020.
It’s a big ambition. But, Labour is determined to make home ownership a realistic aspiration for the next generation. We know that there is no single solution to tackling the housing shortage. That is why alongside our ambition, Ed Miliband tasked our housing commission, chaired by Sir Michael Lyons, to draw up a roadmap for achieving this step-change in house building.
Labour is determined to tackle the root causes of this crisis. We need to release more land for development. We will ensure that local authorities that want to expand but do not have the land can do so through a right to grow. Alongside this, Labour is determined to reform the land market. We will bring an end to land-banking by giving local authorities the power to levy fines and use proper compulsory purchase powers on those who sit on land with planning permission, so that they have to 'use it or lose it.'
We also want to support more firms to enter into the market and encourage small-scale and self-build so we can make the most of all opportunities to create a thriving housebuilding industry. That is why, earlier this year, alongside Chris Leslie, Labour's Shadow Chief Secretary, I announced the details of Labour's Help to Build policy specifically designed to help SME builders. In the Federation of Master Builders' 2013 House Builder Survey, 60 per cent of members cited access to finance as a major barrier to their ability to increase their output of new homes, more than any other factor. So the next Labour Government will provide government guarantees for banks lending to SME construction firms in a similar way to how the current ‘Help to Buy’ scheme underwrites mortgages.
By itself, the private sector has never produced the number of homes we need. Therefore, we are also exploring how we can get councils, together with housing associations, back into the business of building again. Labour councils are already blazing a trail. When it comes to getting affordable homes built they are outbuilding their Tory counterparts by 2 to 1.
Given the severity of the shortage, we will need some big scale solutions. New Towns and Garden Cities played an important role in delivering housing in the past. The commission will be looking at how new plans for a new generation of New Towns and Garden Cities can be realised in a way that benefits local communities.
By contrast the Tories and Lib Dems can only offer more of the same. Their initiatives to boost house building have consistently failed to deliver. The government recently announced a new Garden City in Ebbsfleet and the building of 15,000 homes, but this is 5,000 fewer homes than those announced for the same place in 2012.
Their biggest initiative, Help to Buy, is, it is true, helping to boost demand but here the Government hasn’t understood basic economics. Boosting demand without boosting supply will simply see prices pushed out of reach of aspiring buyers.
The next Labour government will succeed where this government has failed. Nobody should be in any doubt about our determination to deliver the reforms we need to double house-building, restore the dream of home ownership and to give families the security of a home they can afford.
By Emma Reynolds MP, Shadow Housing Minister.