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Brown building up for a home run

Liz Mancini analyses the Government’s new plans for boosting housebuilding.

One of the most pressing issues in the property market is the shortage of new housing being built and the Government has set out two bills to address the problem.

The Housing and Regeneration Bill and the Planning Reform Bill were both included in the Queen’s Speech last week and will be looking at different aspects of housing development.

The Housing and Regeneration Bill is aimed at greatly increasing the amount of social and affordable homes. It will bring together two existing agencies, English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation, to form a new agency called the Home and Communities Agency to oversee social housing and it will also look after the use of excess public sector land, brownfield development and look after infrastructure improvements.

The Planning Reform Bill aims to speed up the planning process for big projects and a new authority will be created to oversee major infrastructure projects. The Infrastructure Planning Commission should, according to the Government, ensure “more timely and predictable decisions on infrastructure projects”.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber says: ‘There is a desperate need for a big increase in the number of flats and houses available for rent or sale. Around two million people are living in places that are too small, too expensive or not fit for human habitation. In addition, many young people and older workers in the public sector stand no chance of owning a home at current property prices.”

Shelter chief executive Adam Sampson says: “There is a dire shortage of homes throughout the country, so we welcome the creation of this new agency as the Government’s first step in delivering three million homes by 2020.”

But the Government’s announcements have been met with reservations from some quarters, with some commentators saying care must be taken not to embark on a wild programme of housebuilding.

The National Trust and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England have warned against unbridled building on green belt land and others are warning that could lead to houses built in unsuitable locations.

RBS Insurance spokesman Roger Ramsden says: “It is vital that the Government learns lessons from this summer’s floods and implements a planning system which is better prepared to meet the new and growing challenges of climate change.”

London and Country’s James Cotton says: “The Government needs to keep an eye on the housing supply and focus on not just making loads and loads of houses. They have to think about building in the right areas, affordable prices and making sure the houses are sustainable as well.

“Many of the post-war houses were found not to be sustainable and the Government needs to make sure they learn from mistakes and focus on quality.”

Hamptons International managing director Cornell says: “This will not ease the housing problem. The Government is long on talk, short on action. Significant steps need to be taken.”

The Government’s plans also aim to promote environmentally friendly or eco homes.

Cotton says: “Anything that aims to help the housing problem should be supported. It is important that the homes go in the right places. There has been talk of eco towns and these houses should be environmentally friendly and in places where people work.”

Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors public policy manager Luke Herbert says: “Developing any brand new town runs the risk of creating isolated pockets of housing, not linked to wider communities. The advantages of eco towns may be lost if they are not created to be strong communities or are reliant on cars for transport. It may be better to look at the possibility of creating eco-extensions to existing communities, rather than completely new towns.”

Cornell says: “It is important to focus on the eco system but I think the idea of eco towns is just political. They are jumping on the eco bandwagon and there is no realistic added value.”

National Housing Association chief executive David Orr says: “We will be scrutinising the detail once the bills are published but it looks like Gordon Brown’s Government is moving in the right direction. Bringing forward more public land, creating a powerful new Homes and Communities Agency and raising housebuilding to 240,000 homes a year are exactly what the Government should be doing, indeed, what it should have done years ago.”

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