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Labour’s mixed signals are the last thing we need

The Labour Party has been repeatedly accused by those in government of failing to set out what it would do if elected, or how it would pay for those policies it has proposed.

But this week, Labour leader Ed Miliband took to the stage in Brighton and told the party faithful that his party will provide the panacea to the UK’s housing crisis.

Promises to build 200,000 new homes a year by 2020 will be music to the industry’s ears, although the National House-Building Council points to the 122,288 new homes registered in the year to July 2013 as “less than half” the rate needed.

Labour says that if elected, its plans will be ready to go, having commissioned local government finance expert Sir Michael Lyons to lead a review to help the party draw up new housing legislation in advance of the 2015 election.

Sir Michael tells us the review will take up to a year and that it will consider more than just those policies set out by Labour.

These could include strengthening compulsory purchase orders and giving powers to charge developers escalating fees for landbanking sites with planning permission to try to force them to release land.

Labour would also give councils the right to demand that neighbouring authorities co-operate to drop opposition to badly needed new homes.

So the opposition has set out how it would get Britain building – and commissioned a review that will hopefully set out clear policies for the industry. But new political reviews can be a byword for kicking the can down the road.

Labour has criticised the length of time being taken for a final report from the coalition’s aviation review, headed by Sir Howard Davies and due in 2015.

It has also pledged to create a national infrastructure commission to get cross-party consensus on infrastructure, as called for in the Armitt Review this month.

A pity then, that it has also briefed the media this week that it would ‘review’ High Speed 2 in 2015 were it to get to power.

The party, in opposition, can do little to keep control of the public purse strings. But if it believes HS2 to be a folly, it should say so and should either show how it would keep it under budget, or call for it to be scrapped.

Make no mistake: construction has been placed at the heart of the election campaign for 2015. In what remains a difficult time for the industry, parties need more than ever to give firm commitments that businesses can plan around for the future.

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