She said developers must “step up and do their duty to Britain”, warning that she would “not rule out any options” to tackle delays in building.
But she immediately faced accusations of doing nothing to improve the critically-low supply of affordable houses in Yorkshire’s two National Parks, and of objecting to developments in her own constituency.
Unveiling a wholesale shake-up of planning rules, the Prime Minister said developers had a “perverse incentive” to earn bonuses by sitting on land once it had been approved for building.
“The bonuses paid to the heads of some of our biggest developers are based not on the number of homes they build but on their profits,” Mrs May said.
“In a market where lower supply equals higher prices, that creates a perverse incentive, one that does not encourage them to build the homes we need.”
Former minister Sir Oliver Letwin is examining the housing market and Mrs May said: “If he finds evidence of unjustifiable delay, I will not rule out any options for ending such practices.”
The PM promised extra protection for the green belt, calling for more homes in urban areas, and suggesting that measures could include converting shops that had fallen victim to online competition, into houses.
The moves are part of wider efforts to help prospective buyers get a foothold on the property ladder. But her speech was branded “a missed opportunity” by a prominent councillor leader in North Yorkshire.
John Blackie, a former leader of Richmondshire Council and an independent on the county council, said the new measures would bypass the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks whose housing issues were, he said, “not on ministers’ radar”.
Coun Blackie said: “Once again, the Government has shown no understanding of the issues that affect rural communities.”
Mrs May, who called for a “great national effort” to get Britain building, acknowledged she had opposed a housing scheme in her Maidenhead seat.
She said: “Yes, I have opposed a number of developments in my own constituency. I have also, for what it’s worth, supported a development that took place on a green belt site.”
Her plans were criticised by Lord Porter, Conservative chairman of the Local Government Association, who said it was “unhelpful” to threaten authorities with losing their rights to decide where homes are built. In November, the Housing Secretary, Sajid Javid, threatened to intervene in York, Halifax and 13 other areas that had failed to draw up local plans for development.
Shadow housing secretary John Healey said: “There’s nothing new here that will make a difference.”