Shadow housing minister insists that Tory administration would be 'deliberately pro-development'

Grant Shapps, shadow housing minister, today insisted that a Conservative government would have a "deliberately pro-development stance" before warning housing associations to tell their boards to "prepare for the worst" as the new regime tried to "rebalance" the country's finances.  

Critics have worried that the party would pander to its conservationist heartland after a letter from shadow communities secretary, Caroline Spelman, was leaked to the press at the beginning of the month.   

In it, Spelman advised Tory politicians and councils to cease development and housebuilding pending an overhaul of the planning system in the first year of government.  

Shapps said the planning system itself was to blame for too few houses being built.

"We believe in building homes for people to live in," he told the National Housing Federation annual conference. "We believe those homes should be decent and affordable and that the only way we can get from where we are today to that situation is to reform and liberate the planning system.

"We will set out ideas before election; a set of ideas to make development something that is, instead of feared, welcomed; instead of loathed in many cases, appreciated; a set of incentives which ensure that when development happens in an area it brings benefits."

Shapps said that, under the Tories, central government would match council tax received from new social housing and add 25% over a six-year period in order to encourage building, a policy first outlined to the RIBA earlier this month. He repeated the committment - made in April's housing green paper - that a Tory government would match council tax from new housing 100% over six years.  

But in an overall downbeat speech, he warned that housing quangos such as the TSA and the HCA should look to their own paypackets in order to make savings, pointing out that the HCA costs £4.5m a month in salary and occupies 20 offices nationwide, "duplicating" the TSA. He pointed out that the chief executives of 10 RSLs earned more than the prime minister.

"Every quango is going to have to look very carefully at the way it's working," he said.  

Shapps warned the chair of a housing association that he should "prepare his board for the worst" because the shadow bench wasn't privy to Treasury finances going into the "worst period we've ever known."

"I appeal to you to help share that burden," he said.