Hilary's speech to the Homes for Britain Rally - 17 March 2015

Thanks very much for inviting me here today to join you.

Apparently, a rally like this has never happened before in the run-up to an election; what does that tell us?

Well it tells me that the number of people calling for action to tackle the housing crisis is growing. And no wonder.

As a nation, we’re building about half the homes we need – the lowest peacetime level of housebuilding since the 1920s.

One of the first acts of the government in 2010 was to cut the affordable homes budget by 60 per cent. No surprise therefore that the number of new social homes built now at its lowest level for over 20 years. Home ownership at its lowest level for 30 years.

House prices rising beyond the reach of many who would like to buy, and the result?  1 in 4 young people in their twenties and early thirties is still living with their parents.

11 million people, including a growing number of families with children, now rent privately with all the insecurity that can bring.

And, after years of progress, homelessness and rough sleeping are on the increase.

So we need to make our voices heard. We need a plan. And we’ll also need to overcome cynicism,  despair and the crisis of confidence in our politics because some will say “Can we do this?”

I think, we can, but we have to be straight with each other.

Cranking up the old housebuilding engine isn’t going to work.

Fundamental change is needed and every one of us will have to do our bit.

Why do I say that? Because of that survey a few years back in which 80% of people asked agreed that there was a housing crisis but then 40% of them said ‘But you won’t build any of the homes we need to solve the crisis anywhere near where I live, will you?’

You get the point.  

Let’s start with what national government needs to do. 

The first step is to recognise that there’s a problem. Successive Governments haven’t done enough and you can’t build houses just by making announcements.

You need a plan. Now you’ve asked all the parties to produce one within a year of taking office, but actually we’ve got one already.

In 2013 Ed Miliband asked Sir Michael Lyons to do a  housing review. His report is the most comprehensive plan for housing in a generation, and from day one a Labour Government will get on and implement it.

We will make housing a national priority for capital expenditure in the next parliament.

We will work with Housing Associations and with councils to make it easier to build council houses.

Over the past fifty years we’ve only built the homes our country needs when the public sector has played a big role so housing associations and councils are central to our plan.

We need more firms building homes to buy and to rent. Thirty years ago, small and medium size companies built two thirds of the nation’s homes. Now it’s less than a third.

If you ask them why, they will tell you – they can’t get access to finance and land.

So will introduce a new Help to Build scheme, which will allow small and medium size builders to get lower cost bank lending supported by Treasury guarantees.

We will encourage smarter and better use of public land, including investing it as equity rather than selling it off to the highest bidder, because that will also help us deliver more affordable homes.
We will introduce fast-track planning rules for small sites of less than ten homes through red-line applications.

And we will use Treasury guarantees and financial incentives to support the building of a new generation of garden cities.

Our pledge is – by the end of the next Parliament, 2020 – to be building at least 200,000 homes a year. We must get there – and beyond - if we are to end the housing crisis in a generation.

And we will also stand up for “generation rent. We will give tenants greater security and peace of mind by legislating for 3-year tenancies with a ceiling on rent increases, and a ban on lettings agent fees being charged to tenants.

Secondly, local government.

To build homes there are two things you need. Sites to build on and planning permission.

That’s why every area will have to have a local plan - it can’t be optional.

After all localism is about taking responsibility for our own future and that of the next generation.

And to help communities take that responsibility we will give them new powers to get the homes they need built.

Labour will allow local councils to create “Housing Growth Areas”. These will unlock powers so that they can get the land together and enter into a partnership with builders to get homes built where local people want them.

We will bring greater transparency into the land market so people locally can see who actually owns the land or has an option on it.

We will stop land that has been given planning permission from sitting idle while no homes get built.

We’ll create the power to apply a charge on these sites – if the houses were built the local authority would be getting council tax income – and in the most serious cases a 'use it or lose it' power, with a streamlined compulsory purchase, so the site can be bought off the owner who isn’t building and sold on to someone who will.

We will give local authorities, working on their own or with others, the ability to set up New Homes Corporations to  assemble land, secure public and private funding, and commission development in co-operation with planners, designers, architects, developers and communities to build great places where people want to live.

And we’ll support neighbourhood planning too.

And what is this all for? It is about giving communities and their elected representatives the tools they need to build homes.

For far too long housing development has felt like a passive process in which you had to wait for someone else to come along and put in an application, leaving you to say yes or no.

What we want is to put local communities in charge  - that’s vital for consent - as they do their bit.

No more 40% don’t build near me; actually attitudes are now moving in favour of housebuilding. From NIMBYs to YIMBYs. 

And what do most people want?
Homes that they can be proud of that suit their needs.

Not identikit houses with tiny bedrooms, but decent design and room to breathe.

So government can’t keep watering down or casting aside rules about quality, accessibility and zero-carbon. After all whoever moves into this new homes is given be paying the gas and electricity bills for a very long time. We’ve got to raise our sights.

People want to live in a community. So we will use some of the planning gain that results from our changes to invest in schools, roads, green spaces and GP surgeries.

And they want to know who will get the homes. So in the new Housing Growth Areas, councils will be able to reserve a proportion of the homes built for first-time buyers from the local community.

So, if you ask me to sum up what are we trying to do, here’s my answer.

We want to give people in their communities the tools they need to build the homes they want in the places they’ve chosen for the people who need them.

It’s as simple as that.

Along with our family, it is our home that gives us security. A sense of place. It makes us feel we belong.

People should not be forced out of their own home because they are on a low income and have to claim housing benefit to pay the rent.

The bedroom tax is immoral and unfair and one of the first things a Labour government will do is scrap it.

And all this comes down to one fundamental question.

Are we going to build the homes we need for our children and our grandchildren?

When you put it like that, there’s really only one answer isn’t there?

So let’s get on with building Homes for Britain.

Good luck in your campaign.

And if you feel like it, you are very welcome to wish us good luck in ours too.  

Thanks very much.


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