Labour leader to promise 200,000 new homes a year by 2020, and will echo Reagan by asking voters: ‘Are you better off now?’
Ed Miliband will propose on Tuesday to reform Britain’s dysfunctional housing market by building 200,000 new houses a year by 2020, the end of the next parliament.
The Labour leader’s move is a response to a collapse in UK housebuilding, which has stoked house-price inflation, and will see him set up a commission designed to curtail the planning logjams preventing houses being built in sufficient numbers.
Miliband will use his set-piece address to the Labour conference in Brighton to announce that Sir Michael Lyons, the respected local government finance expert and former BBC Trust chairman, will lead a review designed to ensure that an incoming government he leads will be able to swiftly draw up housing reform legislation.
The Labour leader also intends to use his speech to ask voters to recognise that Britain can be better – and to ask themselves in 2015 whether they are better off than five years ago, an echo of the famous question asked by the Republican Ronald Reagan in the 1990 presidential election.
Miliband is also due to make an audacious policy land-grab by proposing an £800m tax cut for small businesses. He will also set out plans to drive down energy prices and, in a bid to rebuild engagement in politics, propose cutting the voting age to 16 and stop MPs holding second jobs.
But his remarks come at the end of day not without controversy on the south coast, after the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, hardened Labour’s stance on the HS2 high-speed railway line.
Balls, in his keynote address, said he would not follow the “irresponsible” approach of David Cameron and George Osborne who, he said, had allowed costs to spiral – prompting criticism in some of Labour’s north-west heartlands.
Sir Richard Leese, Labour leader of Manchester city council, complained about Balls’s remarks. “There are better ways for the shadow chancellor to demonstrate fiscal responsibility than take a cheap shot HS2,” he told the Manchester Evening News.
Miliband is expected to deliver his speech without notes – repeating the trick used during his well -received “one nation” speech made in Manchester last year.
He will use the address to claim that the link between growth and rising living standards has been broken.
The Labour leader will argue that too many of the jobs being created “are just too low paid” and “too many of the gains in our economy are just scooped up by the privileged few, including those with big bonuses, and too often you are left being charged over the odds”. He will add: “They used to say a rising tide lifts all the boats. Now the rising tide just seems to lift the yachts.”
Echoing the Republican US President Ronald Reagan, he will argue “at the general election in 2015 you should ask yourself: am I better off than I was five years ago? You’ve made the sacrifices, but you have not got the rewards. You were the first one into the recession but you are the last one out.
“Will the pain be worth it for the gain under this government? No, they are not going to solve the cost-of-living crisis because for them it is not an accident of economic policy, it is their economic policy.” Labour has spoken of the need for a housebuilding programme before, but has so far failed to set out a detailed plan of action.
The Lyons housing commission will look to see how little-used existing compulsory purchase orders – which require owners to sell – can be strengthened by making them less legalistic and time-consuming. It will also examine how to give local authorities proper compulsory purchase powers so that they can buy, assemble and grant planning permission on land that is being hoarded and is holding back development.
Councils will also be given the power to charge developers escalating fees for sitting on land that is not developed with planning permission to incentivise them to release the land.
The Lyons commission will also examine how to give councils a new “right-to-grow” status that will allow a council, if necessary, to demand neighbouring authorities co-operate to drop opposition to badly needed new homes. Labour sources cited the example of Stevenage council being forced to abandon plans to build 9,600 homes due to opposition from North Hertfordshire council.
Finally, the commission will set out detailed plans to establish New Towns and Garden Cities, as pioneered by Milton Keynes, an idea set out by the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, but so far stuck in the Whitehall machine.
The commission will set out the financial incentives and freedoms for local authorities within the scheme, such as retaining an increased share of business rates for 30 years, to invest in infrastructure and services for the area.
Miliband will also claim that one-nation Labour is the party of small business, announcing plans for a £790m tax cut for smaller firms.
The tax cut, achieved by reversing planned increases in business rates due to come into effect in April 2015, would be funded by reversing the last budget’s additional cut from 21 to 20p in the rate of corporation tax paid by large firms. Some small firms will save as much as £2,000, but most will benefit through a saving of nearly £450 over two years.
The cut in the business rates will apply only to businesses and commercial premises with an annual rental value of £50,000 or less in 2015 so that it returns to that level of 2014. Rates will then be frozen for 2016.
Labour said it would also look again at the delay in the business rate revaluation. The coalition has postponed the revaluation for two years to 2107, a move that would benefit prosperous parts of the country at the expense of poorer ones. Miliband will say: “Since this government came to power, they have cut corporation tax on large businesses by £6bn.”
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