Jack Dromey MP.

BMF responds to Labour Party on housing and planning

Published:  27 September, 2013

Ed Miliband’s pledge to build new homes on “a grand scale” was the focus of the Builders Merchants Federation (BMF) at this year’s Labour Party Conference, held in Brighton.

BMF managing director John Newcomb and policy manager Brett Amphlett attended the Conference, where Mr Miliband told his Party that the next Labour Government aims to tackle the housing crisis by building 200,000 homes each year.

Shadow Housing Minister Jack Dromey also met the BMF to explain the thinking behind the proposed moves. He told the BMF that Labour “will be good for building, and building on a grand scale”.

One of Labour’s ideas is to penalise developers who do not build on sites with planning permission, with new controls, fines or possible confiscation. According to the BMF, Mr Dromey will look at giving local authorities new powers to compel owners to sell, which might include the ability to assemble smaller parcels of land to make the combined area more economically feasible and financially viable to develop properly.

Mr Dromey added that he wanted to reduce the upfront cost of land and have more SMEs involved in tackling the housing crisis.

Mr Newcomb welcomed Labour’s desire to address the housing shortfall, but says they have to strike the correct balance between compulsion and encouragement. “As a country, we are building fewer than half the number of homes needed to meet population, demographic and lifestyle changes, but striking the correct balance between compulsion and encouragement of landowners is more crucial than ever,” he said.

“Statutory powers like Compulsory Purchase Orders or charges and fines are easy options that risk antagonising the customers of merchants, at a time when BMF members are seeing on-the-ground activity getting going again.

“It was a useful meeting with Mr Dromey. We believe that in return for private enterprise building out more sites, local authorities could lessen planning fees and negotiate less onerous Section 106 agreements and Community Infrastructure Levy payments.”

According to Labour, the Duty to Cooperate in the Localism Act 2011 is not working as it should. Mr Dromey called it “vacuous” and said it will be re-examined. His Party will consider whether certain towns should be given a "Right to Grow".

At the close of the Conference, Mr Amphlett observed: “With 20 months until the General Election, it is clear that building new homes, and planning permission necessary to have housing completed, is a distinct battleground between political parties. Conservatives favour localism whereas Labour believes in a more prescribed approach.”

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