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Shadow communities secretary says introduction of 'use it or lose it' powers would be priority for Labour government

Labour’s shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn has described his party’s manifesto commitments on housing as the “most comprehensive housing plan for a generation”.

Interviewed by Construction News sister title Local Government Chronicle, Mr Benn said Labour’s policies drew heavily on Sir Michael Lyons’ review of housing policy.

He said legislating to introduce its housing policies would be an early priority for a Labour government.

These would include a new ‘use it or lose it’ power to prevent developers or other landowners from sitting on land with planning permission for homes but failing to build on it.

Mr Benn also told LGC Labour he would encourage councils to be proactive if developers were insisting brownfield sites identified for housing were unviable.

He suggested in these situations councils could parcel sites up into lots and get small and medium-sized builders to build around 10 houses each, or contract directly with construction companies to build larger numbers of homes.

This could be funded with support from a new Help to Build fund, which would give loans to small builders backed by Treasury guarantees.

Alternatively, if the proposed development was on council-owned land, the authority could put the land upfront and negotiate a deal that would ensure a fair return once the homes are built.

Mr Benn said councils could also explore European-style self-build models in which homes are ordered ‘off the peg’ from a catalogue.

He said: “In other words, just because one group of developers has said the site doesn’t work does not mean in itself that it is not viable.

“It may be [developers] are saying that because they want to make a certain rate of return and they don’t think they’re going to do it.”

Mr Benn also promised Labour would crack down on authorities that had failed to agree a local plan.

Last year the Planning Inspectorate found that as of October 2014, 41 per cent of local authorities did not have a local plan, or core strategy, in place.

“The deal is this: Every local authority has got to have a plan,” Mr Benn said.

“You can’t have areas saying we’re not going to draw up a development plan for our area. Everyone’s got to have a core strategy.”

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