Labour conference latest: Former frontbencher John Healey gives mixed review of party policy
Jeremy Corbyn’s housebuilding policy has been slammed for not being ambitious enough by his former shadow minister on the issue.
John Healey, who was opposition housing and planning spokesman until he quit the shadow cabinet as part of the wider summer mass walk-out, told a fringe meeting at the annual Labour confernce in Liverpool that his party’s leader was “wrong” to only aim for 200,000 new homes per annum. He said: “We should do better than that, we should aim for 300,000 homes per year.”
Healey’s comments came before Labour’s London mayor Sadiq Khan delivered a broadside against re-elected party leader Jeremy Corbyn, arguing repeatedly that Labour needed to be “in power” to fix problems like the housing crisis, which he said should be the “number one priority”.
Khan said as London mayor he was already taking steps to tackle housing inequality, including boosting affordable housing on new developments and introducing social letting and living rent schemes.
He added: “We won’t be able to fix the housing crisis overnight - it’s too serious and entrenched a problem. But it’s only with Labour in power that we can make a real start and a real difference.”
Meanwhile, at a Labour fringe event, Crest Nicholson’s regeneration boss Chris Tinker admitted the firm continues to be hit by the UK’s vote to withdraw from the European Union.
Tinker said that the Surrey-based volume housebuilder had suffered “wholesale cancellation on the day after ‘Brexit’, triggered by predictions that there would be a dramatic slump in house prices.”
He said that the recovery in housing sales reported by several of Crest’s competitors had “not entirely been our experience”.
Healey, who was also housing minister under Gordon Brown, is still working on an independent review into the decline of home ownership, set to publish this autumn, which he launched alongside Taylor Wimpey boss Pete Redfern in March when he was still on the Labour frontbench.
He praised his party leader for recreating the post of housing and planning minister in his shadow cabinet. “This suggests that a Labour government would give the leadership that adressing the housing crisis needs.”
But he said stronger national leadership was needed to tackle the shortfall in the number of new homes should also involve the establishment of a new wave of housing development corporations.
In additon, he called for doubling government new homes investment to £3bn per annum and making it easier for councils to build by relaxing the rules surrounding their housing revenue accounts.
Healey also defended the policy under the last Labour government, when he was housing minister, to support private housebuilders during the recession of 2008/09 through the Kickstart initiative.
But he said that the current government’s policy of supporting home ownership was “perverse” because it was pumping money into the supporting demand rather than supply of new housing.
He added: “It’s different conditions from 2008/09 when we were trying to help the country out of the deepest recession in a century. Stoking demand is not a policy that I would have in place in any other stage of the conomic cycle.”
He criticised David Cameron for presiding over the lowest level of housebuilding achieved by any prime minister since the 1920s, pointing out that the best year for housebuildng since 2010 had been exceeded during Labour’s 13-year term in all but one year.
Also speaking at the event, Home Builders Federation external affairs director John Slaughter called for further planning reforms to make it harder for planning committee members to refuse schemes on ‘spurious grounds’ that had been recommended for approval by officers.
The fringe meeting was organised by the HBF in association with the Federation of Master Builders and the National House Building Council.