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.
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