Labour takes on the land blockers

PROPERTY developers that hoard land and councils that block neighbouring housing developments should be forced to step aside to enable thousands of new homes to be built, Labour leader Ed Miliband has claimed.

Ed Miliband visits Chrysalis Park housing development in Stevenage

Local authorities should be given the power to override neighbouring “home-blocking” authorities and, if necessary, make developers sell land if they do not use it, according to Mr Miliband.

The Doncaster North MP claimed the “worst housing shortage for a generation” was driving up costs for first-time buyers as he outlined his party’s plan to build 200,000 new homes a year by 2020, which includes a “right to grow” scheme which would give support to councils whose expansions are blocked.

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York is among four Labour-controlled councils – the others are Stevenage, Oxford and Luton – signed up to the scheme.

The policy move was attacked by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, however, who called it the latest in a series of “populist, gimmicky” Labour policies.

Announcing the policy on a visit to Stevenage, Mr Miliband said: “House prices are going through the roof and it’s taking families up to 20 years to save the deposit for their first home, so the housing crisis we have in this country is central to the cost-of-living crisis.

“That’s why we’ve said a Labour government will take on home-blocking councils and land-hoarding developers so that young people and families can fulfil their dreams of a home of their own. A Labour government would give a ‘right to grow’ to councils so that they can’t simply be blocked all the time by neighbouring councils, but can actually expand.

“A Labour government is determined to reach the objective of building 200,000 homes a year by 2020 so that we can meet the needs of so many people across the country who find they can’t afford a home to rent or to buy.”

Labour have referred the details of their plans to a Housing Commission, which was announced at the party’s conference earlier this year and is headed by ex-BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons. The group will consider the “right to grow” scheme and help identify sites for new towns and garden cities that could be underwritten by Treasury guarantees.

They will also look at simplifying rules surrounding the Housing Revenue Account to give local authorities more flexibility in how existing public funding is spent and examine how communities can benefit from windfalls gained from the granting of planning permission.

York Council leader Coun James Alexander stressed the city actually has a good relationship with neighbouring authorities, and blamed political opponents on the council for opposing new housing.

But the council’s Tory group leader, Coun Ian Gillies, said: “We don’t believe York residents will be impressed that the leader of the opposition party has announced that their city has the “right” to grow, nor that our attention-seeking council leader has eagerly volunteered York for more party political publicity.

“As with their announcement about energy prices, Labour are grandstanding, making promises they can’t possibly keep, and getting the solution to another complicated issue hopelessly wrong.”

The announcement was also criticised by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, who highlighted the possibility that greater emphasis on expansion could threaten green belt land.

Mr Miliband claimed environmentally protected land would not be threatened, saying: “Of course we have got to protect green belt, but we need a fair process whereby councils that want to expand can do, and that’s what we are proposing.”