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Hilary Benn: ‘We want more housebuilders coming into the market’

Shadow communities and local government secretary Hilary Benn MP on the role of architects in housebuilding and on protecting the green belt

What can be done to help local authorities boost their house building?
Thanks to the changes in the housing revenue account put in place by the last Labour government, councils are now building council houses again – for example look at the programmes in Southwark and Leeds.

Housing associations are also very important providers of affordable homes. Local authorities need to take responsibility for identifying housing need in their area, and we need to create a more level playing field with developers.

We also want more housebuilders coming into the market; 40 years ago two-thirds of homes were built by small and medium-sized builders, but now it is just one third.

There are builders who want to build, but lack land and finance. All of these issues are being looked at by Michael Lyons’ housing review, which was set up by Ed Miliband.

Does Labour have a comprehensive plan to alleviate the housing crisis?
We are determined to reach a total of 200,000 homes a year by 2020. This will need more land coming forward, ‘use it or lose it’ powers for councils where land has permission but no building is taking place, better support for small and medium-sized housebuilders, custom builders and strong local leadership.

We strongly support the green belt and will not change the protection it has

The RIBA has presented recommendations to build on the green belt, is it a viable option?
We strongly support the green belt and will not change the protection it has at present. But councils do already have, in certain circumstances, the power to vary the boundaries of the green belt, and that should remain a matter for local decision – as it is now.

Britain has some of the smallest homes in the EU, would Labour consider making minimum design and space standards for new homes a legal obligation?
We need to make sure that homes are of a decent size and the principal responsibility for this rests with architects and developers. Local housing design guides can also help.

Do you see a greater role for architects in government to help shape policies and places?
What both the public and architects want are well-designed homes that are nice to live in, in neighbourhoods with good facilities. Part of winning public support for house building is building quality homes in places people want to live. Labour will match our determination to build more homes with a zeal for quality. Architects will therefore continue to have a vital role to play in helping the nation build the homes it needs.

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