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Conservatives in new council house pledge

The Conservative party has pledged to reform the way councils can acquire land to make it easier for them and social housing providers to build new homes for rent.

Under the new plans, regulations will be eased to make it simpler and cheaper to buy up available land, and cash will be provided to help get developments underway, albeit taken from an existing £1.4 billion budget announced in last year's Autumn Statement, rather than new money.

Speaking on BBC One's Andrew Marr Show, defence secretary Michael Fallon said the amount each local authority would get will depend on a deal to be negotiated with the government.

While the party has not set a specific target for the number of new homes built, the government believes it will lead to a marked rise in the number of council houses being built. The tally declined in the 1980s as the administration led by Margaret Thatcher initiated the 'right-to-buy' scheme that allowed council house tenants to buy these homes and thus become homeowners. The level of building flatlined for many years, but has risen slightly in the past few years.

This policy is designed to be self-sustaining while simultaneously enabling right-to-buy to continue. The new homes will be constructed under terms that mean they will be sold off after ten to 15 years of rental occupancy, with the existing tenant getting first refusal. The proceeds will then be used to build more social housing.

Speaking about the scheme, prime minister Theresa May said: "Whether you rent or buy, everyone needs the security of a place to call home but too many ordinary working families are stuck on council waiting lists, facing unaffordable rents and struggling to save for that first deposit.

"That’s why we will fix the broken housing market and support local authorities and housing associations to build a new generation of council homes right across the country."

Shadow housing minister John Healey poured scorn on the policy, noting that no new money is being committed to it and describing the plan as "all political spin and no substance".

Labour's target of building a million new homes over five years echoes the pledge made by the Conservatives two years ago, but they have focused specifically on council housing, aiming for half of the new homes to be council or housing association homes. This policy has already been made public and was included in the leaked draft of the Labour manifesto that emerged last week.

While the parties argue about who has the best policies, the fact that both have acknowledged the need for more social and council housing is good news for many; it will be music to the eras of those on council house waiting lists and also the construction sector. This will include insulation fitters and those carrying out work to make showers and cellars waterproof.
Commenting on this, Shelter's director of communications, policy and campaigns Anne Baxendale said: "We're pleased to see cross-party consensus on the need to tackle the housing crisis and welcome pledges to build a new generation of homes to rent.

"This will come as great relief to the millions of ordinary families currently languishing in the private rented sector, especially those on low incomes who spend a huge chunk of their income on sky-high rent.

"Giving councils access to land more cheaply including brownfield sites and allowing them to borrow money to build the homes communities need is a huge step forward."

More details of the housing plans of both parties may emerge as the manifestos are published - along with those of the Liberal Democrats, Greens, UKIP and others.