Labour unveils new Help to Build policy as Conservatives answer accusations

labourLabour has unveiled a package of measures designed to help smaller house-building firms construct a greater number of new homes in an effort to address the UK housing shortage.

In a speech in Parliament on January 28, shadow housing minister Emma Reynolds revealed new figures showing that since 2010, the number of homes built by SME firms has dropped from 27% to 24%, with an estimated 1,131 SME builders lost from the industry in this time. This has contributed to 356 fewer homes being built every day, which Ms. Reynolds has blamed on the Conservative party, which she says has

“presided over the lowest levels of house-building in peacetime since the 1920s.”

Ms. Reynolds revealed proposals that a Labour Government would introduce a Help to Build scheme to allow SMEs to access lower-cost bank lending backed by Treasury guarantees, as well as fast-track planning for small sites of fewer than ten homes, and a requirement for councils to include a higher proportion of smaller sites for housing in their five-year plans.

Speaking to the Federation of Master Builders at a pre-election event in Westminster, Ms Reynolds was due to say:

“We are not even building half the number of homes that we need to keep up with demand. A record number of young people in their 20s and 30s are living at home with their parents. Many young people and families are priced out of home ownership and some of these families are living in overcrowded conditions.

“We need a more diverse and competitive housing market to build the homes we need but in recent years small builders have fallen into decline.

“Labour will boost small builders, increase house-building and help make home ownership a realistic aspiration for the next generation. Labour is committed to building many more homes which is why we will get 200,000 homes built a year by 2020, creating up to 230,000 jobs.”

In response, Conservative housing minister Brandon Lewis said:

“Labour don’t mention that it’s their official party policy to hike up taxes and Building Regulations on small builders, adding up to œ30,000 to the cost of building a new home.

“Labour just offer the same failed policies of higher taxes and more red tape.”

Despite this criticism, Labour’s Help to Build policy has been welcomed by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH). Grainia Long, chief executive of the CIH, said: “Historically, small and medium sized builders have played a vital role in building new homes, but following the credit crunch they’ve found it more difficult to access finance. That’s why we have been calling for a Help to Build scheme for SME builders, to help boost the part they can play in tackling the housing crisis.

“Requiring councils to identify more small sites for housing and fast-tracking the development of smaller sites will also help, but we cannot underestimate the scale of our housing crisis. What we need is a game-changer, like the government taking a much more active role in building new homes.”

As the General Election in May draws closer, housing has returned to the upper levels of policy agenda, with the issue being included in the recent launch of the Conservative Party’s six election priorities by David Cameron.

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