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Eric Pickles: Labour’s approach to housing shows how out of touch they are

16 December 2013

Under the last Labour Government, house building fell to its lowest peacetime level since the 1920s. Labour’s top-down Regional Strategies and eco-towns built nothing but resentment. Advised by Ed Balls and Ed Miliband, Gordon Brown engineered an economic bubble that resulted in a speculative bust and the biggest budget deficit in our peacetime history.

This Government is clearing up the mess left by Labour. We are working with – not against  – local communities to help build more homes, scrapping Regional Strategies and rewarding development via decentralising local government finance – from the New Homes Bonus, to the local retention of business rates to a localised Housing Revenue Account.

We are helping hardworking people onto the housing ladder through Help to Buy and the reinvigorated Right to Buy. Both first time buyers and housing construction have risen to their highest level since 2007, whilst repossessions have plummeted thanks to the lower interest rates from our long-term economic plan.

Housing Minister, Kris Hopkins, announced today that under this Government, the New Homes Bonus has rewarded 550,000 additional homes, including over 93,000 long-term empty properties brought back into use and provision of over 160,000 new affordable homes. This also reflects the success of our comprehensive programme to get empty homes back into productive use.

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Labour claim to offer an alternative but in reality they just offer more of the same high-tax and top-down policies that led to their housing boom and bust. Their new land grab policies would allow Labour councils to rip up neighbouring Green Belt protection around the likes of Stevenage, Luton, Oxford and York. This policy has been spun by Labour as the ‘Right to Grow’, but it threatens to destroy by replacing our beautiful countryside with an uncoordinated urban sprawl. It’s a recipe for Labour councils dumping ugly estates in the backgardens of the council next door, removing the green lung around towns and cities, without any local democratic mandate.

Labour also want a new tax on planning permission: yet introducing such taxes on development would in fact reduce house building and discourage regeneration schemes. Indeed, Labour’s claims of widespread land banking have been comprehensively discredited by empirical research, as Planning Minister, Nick Boles, has explained.

We’ve made more use of existing buildings by taking scissors to the red tape that prevents surplus empty building changing use, such as offices being converted in homes. Yet these moves are being actively opposed by both the Labour frontbench and Labour councils (as their councils don’t get to levy development taxes on such conversions). Labour can’t have it both ways – calling for more houses, yet trying to block brownfield regeneration in our towns and cities. It simply doesn’t make sense.

Yet on important issues such as self build there has been a stony silence from  the Labour Party. Will they support those who want to build their own home by backing the cutting development taxes on self-builders –  something this Government has done? So far you can still hear a pin drop.

Labour’s approach shows clearly that they aren’t listening and that they haven’t changed. It is the same old Labour. We know there is more to do to help build homes. But this can only be achieved by supporting hardworking families in communities across Britain in practical ways such as; cutting burdens on builders, allowing councils to shape where development should and should not go via Local Plans, and safeguarding vital environmental protections like the Green Belt.

These common sense changes fall right at the heart of Conservatism  – which believes in home ownership, lower taxes and trusting the people. By staying true to these principles we are taking the bold and decisive action needed to turn housebuilding and home ownership in Britain around.

Eric Pickles is the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 

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Show comments
  • Bonkim

    Biggest enemy of Mr Pickles – Conservative councils and local MINBYs putting a spanner in the planning works.

  • Daniel Maris

    This is pathetic. Back in the 1950s when productive power was so much lower, the Conservatives managed to build more than 400,000 housing units EACH year, working in conjunction with local authorities.

    Now Pickles is boasting about building 30,000 in a year – less than 10% of the 1950s figures. Why does anyone give this overblown buffoon the time of day?

    • Bonkim

      Land was cheap and labour rates low then. And there was practically no planning.

  • Magnolia

    It won’t do.
    The new homes bonus is a ‘bribe’ to local state officials from the central state officials in government. It’s just ‘patronage’ for developers.
    The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is a developer’s charter and allows development on green fields at the edges of beautiful towns without any infrastructure provision and in the face of massive local opposition.
    Stamp duty is a tax on jobs because it stops people from moving around to get work or promotion but no do there.
    Labour would shove inappropriate development on to the countryside but Mr Pickles is no different and I see no reason to vote for a politician who has facilitated the destruction of my beautiful little town in aesthetic terms.

  • DestroyTheWorld

    All you Conservatives have done is rip people off. You’re equal if not worse than Labour. You know todays British Parliament? Knock it down because it’s useless.

  • SPPP2

    Love the first 3 paragraphs. Pickles says that labour engineered a huge bubble which crashed causing a massive deficit. Correct & terrible. So now we will start our own with help to buy and other props!

    The 2008 bubble didn’t even deflate in many areas. It’s not a starting point to blow it up more until the next crash.

    And this cracker – ‘housing construction have risen to their highest level since 2007’. 2007 was a very low year – it was in the bottom 10% over the past century. It’s just the following 6 were beyond dire.

  • LarryH77

    Laughable response. Not party has manipulated the housing market for personal gain more than the Tories. The lowest level of building was 2012-13.

    Accelerating the sell off of social housing when there’s a shortage is a shameless and desperate vote-grab before 2015.

    The obsession with ownership is pure political folly. The richest nations in Europe (Germany, Switzerland) have the lowest levels of ownership. The poorest nations, the highest.

    The Tories promised a paper on new towns 2 years ago… Since then silence because it might lose a few votes in the Shires.

    • sarahsmith232

      Interesting post, but surely by ‘richest’ you mean, has a larger GDP. But this is a meaningless measure. Germany has a larger population, so it’s a given that their GDP will be bigger. Income per capita, on the other hand, last time I looked, could be wrong, it might have changed but German income per capita was lower than ours.

  • SPPP2

    The ONS today has confirmed that last year housing completions in Britain were the lowest in peacetime since the 1920s. The tories have utterly failed as labour did before.

    Britain built more when on its knees after WW2, in the austerity hit 50s, in the 70s with the IMF and 3 day week. And it’s not just post 2008 where the numbers are pitiful, but for 15 years before that.

    All whilst the population rises at its quickest for decades. Is there a cosy stitch up between politicians (many own multiple homes and let out) and big developers to restrict development and increase prices or is it incompetence? If you’re under 30 in the UK it is seriously worth leaving and living abroad in a nation with reasonable housing costs where you wont be paying excessive costs for decades.

    • sarahsmith232

      Have you looked at OECD stat’s? This is happening already, we’re losing our ‘best & brightest’ in their boat loads. The stat’s on Russell Group grad’s abandoning the country should be a far, far bigger issue. Just overheard a conversation between some teens the other week. A young boy was predicting he’d get 3 A’s at A Level, when asked where he was planning on going he said ‘I’m going, i’m not staying in this country, this country is ****, i’m going to University in America’. He was absolutely dead right as well. This country would only hold someone like him back. So now, are they even bothering to stick around ’till after they’ve graduated, now, it seems, they’re out before then even.
      Personally, I think the gov’ should think about creating something like graduate flats. Just little studio apartments in grad’ flat blocks, renting them out to Russell Group grad’s w/ firsts at a subsidised rate. They could have shared w/ 3 others bathrooms. Some could have their own bathroom. So long as you’ve got your own kitchen then it’s ok. Rent them out at around £110/130 pw (for a couple – cheap). Northern bright graduates could move to London, they could save for a deposit, see a point in remaining in the country. Something needs to be done.

  • anyfool

    Mr Pickles, all readers on here know that Labour are lying cheating scoundrels, housing shortages are down to one thing, their policy of importing voters.
    Unless you are prepared to face reality and do something about it all the house building in the world will not keep up with the growth of the population.

  • MichtyMe

    Allways like to hear a Conservative defending Socialism, in this instance the planning controls and green belts imposed by the post war Socialist Government. A true Tory, should of course, disapprove of socialist control, planning and regulation, end quasi land nationalisation, the appropriation of property rights and free property owners to do whatever they wished on or with the land they own.

    • HookesLaw

      What is socialist about green belts? As ever you live in Wonderland rather than face facts.
      The notion that a true tory believes in laissez faire and devil take the hindmost rat race is you sick fantasy.
      They were first rolled out in England under a Conservative Govt (1955).

  • sarahsmith232

    if someone would get a grip on immigration then there wouldn’t be such a thing as a housing crisis.

    • SPPP2

      However we are still building far less though than we did from the 1920s to the 1990s before mass immigration. 130k last year were completed. Average range for most of the 20th century before mass immigration was 200k-250k with quite a few years hitting 300k.

      • sarahsmith232

        We’re not still breeding at the rate we were in the 1920s. We’re only at replacement level of births, that is, white indigenous Brit’s are anyway.
        No, this prob’ has solely been created by out of control immigration.

    • In2minds

      Ah but we need all those immigrants to build houses for all those immigrants. And we could close coal fired power stations to free up land to build houses on. it’s called joined uo government.

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