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Brown in boost for housebuilding

Chancellor Gordon Brown has pledged his commitment to a radical new programme of housebuilding in the UK and wide-sweeping planning reforms.

In his influential Mansion House speech last week, Brown said a wholesale change in planning policy and a massive house-building programme are vital to the country's economic prosperity.

The speech is a signal of what to expect from the Comprehensive Spending Review - the Chancellor's six-monthly statement on governmental finances, expected within weeks. It is also seen as a pointer to the planning policy document - the next stage on from the Planning Green Paper - also to be published shortly.

Brown stressed in his speech that the government is determined to solve the 'desperate need' for more new homes in the UK. He said streamlining planning regulations would 'both develop the British economy and help to ease the housing crisis'.

The comments suggest the government will step up funding for affordable housebuilding and could promote limited construction on Green Belt land.

Pierre Williams, head of public affairs at the House-Builders Federation, said he was aware of planned funding increases. The Housing Corporation - the government agency that funds affordable housing - could have its budget doubled to £1.2 billion in the review, he claimed.

The chancellor is also expected to massively increase the financing of planning departments in the spending review. David Rose, the Royal Town Planning Institute's director of public affairs, said he believed the government could raise the planning budget by up to 60 per cent.

Town and Country Planning Association director Gideon Amos applauded the commitment to housebuilding and social housing: 'We hope this means a change for housing policy. Government funding in social housing has fallen from £28 billion in 1989 to £15 billion in 2001.'

Amos said that giving money to planning departments would speed up the planning process.

'They are the Cinderella of local government and chronically underfunded, ' he said.

CABE's head of government relations Steven King agreed that the speech is a sea change in housing and planning policy. 'This is the first time there has been an axis between Brown and John Prescott. It is the first time they are working together to achieve reform.'

However, Friends of the Earth's Hugh Ellis slammed the possible Green Belt relaxations. 'They must be mad to give up one of the only social policies that is publicly understood and supported.'

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