Mixed response to Miliband's housing promise

Ed Miliband’s hint that a future Labour government might force housebuilders to build on land they have landbanked at the risk of losing it has received a mixed reception from the construction industry.

Speaking at this week’s Labour Party conference in Brighton, the Labour leader his party was determined to grasp the issue because if current trends continue, by 2020 there would be 2 million too few homes in Britain.

He said: “So we’ll say to private developers: ‘You can’t just sit on land and refuse to build.’ We will give them a very clear message - either use the land or lose the land.

“We’ll say to local authorities that they have a right to grow, and neighbouring authorities can’t just stop them. We’ll identify new towns and garden cities and we’ll have a clear aim that by the end of the parliament Britain will be building 200,000 homes a year.”

Such a message was reinforced at a fringe event at the conference by shadow housing minister Jack Dromey.

Saying that Labour would “cut the crap” about land availability, he added that a Labour government would build houses “on a grand scale” and get more SMES involved in the process.

CBI director-general John Cridland said that the 200,000 target was a “great ambition”. But he added: To achieve this we need house builders on board, not criticised for holding on to land when it's not viable to build on it.”

The CBI believes the reforming the planning system to allow more houses to be built is a more urgent priority.

Samuel Blake, director of development and residential consulting at BNP Paribas Real Estate said that such a policy would only be fair if public sector landholders were also penalized for landbanking - of they could be rewarded for releasing land by topping up their receipts per plot delivered.

However the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) which hosted the fringe event jointly with the National Federation of Builders (NFB), said it was glad to see recognition of the role SMEs have to play.

Chief executive Brian Berry said: “It is smaller settlements across villages, towns and cities that are needed to tackle the housing crisis and it is SMEs that are needed to deliver this. The problems with access to finance have not gone away for SME house builders, which is why we would like to see the Labour Party include a new finance vehicle to help house builders in their housing policy package.”

NFB chief executive Julia Evans said: “Not all local communities are against new developments for future generations, but they would prefer smaller, more personal clusters that SMEs are best placed to provide, rather than huge developments. We let smaller house builders leave the industry at our peril.”

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