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24 July 2014

Why Labour isn’t going to promise a million new homes

The party says the existing target of 200,000 a year by 2020 is "ambitious but realistic".

By George Eaton

Labour has long made it clear that a large housebuilding programme will be at the centre of its programme for government, with Ed Miliband promising 200,000 new homes a year by 2020 in his conference speech last year. But some regard this target as inadequate, arguing instead for a pledge to build a million new homes over the course of the next parliament. Ahead of this autumn’s conference, and the completion of the party’s housing review, led by Michael Lyons, there has been speculation that this will be the final manifesto promise. 

But a Labour housing source confirmed to me today that this wasn’t the case. “There have been a lot of promises made on housebuilding in the past and those haven’t been met. Our target of 200,000 by 2020 is ambitious but realistic,” he said. “The last time we built 200,000 homes in England was the 1980s. History shows that after every crash and recession the recovery in housebuilding takes longer and the average that you get back to is then lower.” 

The government currently forecasts a fall in the number of houses started this year from 133,650 to 128,000, and Labour reasonably argues that it won’t be possible to get construction up to 200,000 in the first year of the next parliament (the rate required to achieve a million by 2020). “200,000 by 2020 is ambitious and it will require fundamental change to get there,” the source said.

Shadow housing minister Emma Reynolds will shortly have more to say on how the party plans to increase construction by small firms and by self-builders. The Lyons review is also examining whether to lift the cap on some councils’ borrowing, although a source emphasised to me that this wasn’t a “silver bullet”. Outside of London, there are few councils anywhere near their loan limit. 

But while 200,000 a year by 2020 will remain the target, Labour regards this as “a plot on a journey upwards”. The ambition is to deliver a “sustained increase in housebuilding” of which 200,000 is the start, not the end. 

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