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Cautious welcome for Labour's anti-land banking plans

Developers have welcomed proposals by Labour to free up land and build 200,000 homes by 2020 - but have expressed doubts over the way the plans will work in practice

On a visit to Stevenage, party leader Ed Miliband today declared that Labour would tackle councils that ‘block homes’, and developers that ‘hoard land’. 

Miliband insisted there are large amounts of land – enough to build more than a million homes – earmarked for houses which have not been built. 

He claimed the next Labour government would give councils power to charge fees or, if necessary, purchase the land to kick start development.

Land hoarders with sites that have planning permission would be told to use it or lose it, Miliband warned. ‘Profits for our four biggest housing developers are going through the roof,’ he said. ‘They have soared 557 per cent since this Government took office – even though homes have been built at their slowest rate witnessed in peacetime for almost a century.’

Mike Ward, Circle Housing executive director of property said he backed any move to free up more land but said it remained to be seen what the impact would be of ‘penalising developers’ who do not build on land that they have purchased.

‘In reality, this is often because land was bought at the peak of the market before the crash which makes it difficult for some private developers to make schemes stack up financially,’ he said. ‘A solution is needed, and it should be for the sector to join together to find new ways of working to create diverse, mixed tenure communities that address housing need.’

Paul Templeton, director of Baobab Developments, described councils’ reluctance to release land and the large developers hoarding or speculating on land, as unacceptable. 

He added that Miliband was ‘right to level his sights on tackling this problem and getting Britain building houses again.’

‘I welcome that this conversation is happening, as whilst this proposal may not bring about the sea change required in the industry, it will certainly get the tide moving in the correct direction,’ he said.

However, Eric Pickles, secretary of state for Communities and Local Government warned the policy would allow Labour councils to “forcibly rip up Green Belt protection” in neighbouring councils and claimed their new tax on planning permission would reduce housebuilding and discourage regeneration schemes.

‘We know there is more to do to help build homes,’ he said. ‘But this must be done by working with hardworking families in communities across Britain, allowing councils to shape where development should and shouldn’t go via local plans, and safeguarding important environmental protections.’

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