Three Million Homes But Not A Supercasino In Sight

Gordon Brown yesterday promised the biggest programme of housebuilding since the 1970s — but left the country guessing where the homes will be, how much they will cost and what they will look like.

{mosimage}At the same time he stunned MPs by killing off the supercasino, the centrepiece of Tony Blair’s long planned expansion of gambling in Britain. The Prime Minister pledged the creation of three million extra new homes by the end of the next decade.

The annual housebuilding target is to be increased to 240,000 homes a year. The last time that figure was reached was in 1979, when council houses were still being built.

In the years since, council building has virtually stopped, but it will be revived drastically as part of yesterday’s package. Doubts were voiced last night over whether councils would be able to remobilise the construction expertise that they once had.

Some 550 sites across the country owned by the Government are being examined for the building of up to 100,000 new homes, with a further 60,000 being built on “brownfield” sites owned by local authorities. Among the ambitious plans are proposals for five “eco-towns”, which will be built with the lowest possible carbon impact.

The Prime Minister came under immediate attack for failing to disclose how much of the new property would be social housing and how he would ensure that affordable private housing was built. There was also little detail about where the new homes would be built and how planning could be fast-tracked to make sure that houses were delivered as quickly as possible.

The Conservatives accused Mr Brown of announcing old plans and claimed that he was responsible for “kicking a whole generation off the housing ladder”.

There will be three housing Bills in the next parliamentary session, dominating Mr Brown’s first programme which, in a break with tradition, he outlined yesterday — four months before the real Queen’s Speech.

Next week Yvette Cooper, the Housing Minister, will publish a Green Paper setting out further details of the building programme and how much it will cost the taxpayer. Whitehall sources said that only the new building programmes would be mixed private and social housing, which would be constructed in different parts of the country including the Midlands and the North.

Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, is also considering a new regime to help mortgage lenders to finance “more affordable” fixed-rate mortgages over 20 to 25 years by using bonds to back the deals.

Mr Brown told rural campaigners that there would be no review of existing greenbelt land and that the majority of the new housing would be built on previously developed brownfield land.

But the Campaign to Protect Rural England gave warning against a return to the high-rise tower blocks that dominated social housing in the 1960s and 1970s. Neil Sinden, the CPRE policy director, claimed that Mr Brown had failed to think through the impact that his building programme could have on both the coutryside and urban areas.

“We don’t want to go back to the poorly designed, excessively high-rise and shabbily constructed council housing which was developed within and outside town and cities,” Mr Sinden said.

Key to the new programme is adjusting annual building targets, which have crept up from an all-time low in 2001 of 130,000 in England. At the moment, 185,000 homes in England are built a year, which was due to rise to 200,000 by 2016. Yesterday’s announcement will raise that target to 240,000 a year by 2016, a 55,000 increase from this year.

The Prime Minister’s totally unexpected move over supercasinos threatened to overshadow his innovation of previewing the legislative programme, which will unveiled formally on November 6. It prompted anger in Manchester, which had been chosen as the site for the first project.

He told MPs that he would consider whether there were “better ways” of improving poor areas, firmly rejecting the case made by Mr Blair that casino expansion would bring jobs and money flowing into deprived areas.

However, government officials said that Mr Brown would still put before Parliament plans for 16 smaller casinos, which are likely to pass without objection.

Last night the Conservatives accused Mr Brown of hypocrisy for voting in favour of the legislation under Mr Blair then discarding it when in power. In the first sign of mainstream backbench discontent in the Labour Party, Graham Stringer, the Manchester Blackley MP, called the decision “weak”.

Mr Brown set out a list of 23 Bills for the next session. Some MPs believe that by doing so he has left himself the option of a snap autumn election.

There will be an Education and Skills Bill requiring all young people to stay on in education or in training until they are 18, while a Health and Social Care Bill will establish a single regulator covering the NHS and all adult social care providers.

There will be consultations on extending the time that terror suspects can be held without charge, as part of a new Counter-Terrorism Bill.

Mr Brown said that he hoped to achieve a “broad consensus” on raising the current 28-day limit — despite the opposition of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

David Cameron claimed that there was little in Mr Brown’s statement that had not been announced before.

The Tories said that all but one of the measures had been foreshadowed by ministers in one form or another. Mr Cameron said: “I have to say most of what the Prime Minister announced sounds rather like the Queen’s Speech last year, the year before and the year before that,” The Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell complained that the Government was introducing too many new laws and said that Mr Brown should be more concerned about the quality of the legislation he was bringing in.