PM pledges 200,000 starter homes
David Cameron has pledged to double to 200,000 the number of cut-price starter homes to be built under a Conservative scheme, as he set out his ambition to make home ownership "the privilege of the many, not the preserve of a few".
The scheme targets under-40s priced out of the first-home market by offering developers the chance to build on cheaper brownfield commercial land and waiving taxes - in return for a 20% cut in the sale price.
But Labour leader Ed Miliband said the Prime Minister had failed on housing for Britain's families, for many of whom the dream of home ownership was "disappearing into the distance".
In the last of six speeches highlighting the key themes of the Tory campaign for May 7's poll, Mr Cameron set out the Conservative platform on housing, including the previously-announced extension to 2020 of the "Help to Buy" scheme for young people struggling to raise a deposit on a home.
Mr Cameron said a Conservative government would keep mortgage interest rates down, and warned that extra borrowing under Labour would force rates up, adding £1,000 to the average mortgage bill for every one per cent rise.
A Tory government would also guarantee the right to buy council homes and would offer more protection to private rental tenants, he said.
And he promised to protect the countryside by concentrating housing development on previously-developed areas, with an aim to ensure that 90% of suitable brownfield sites will have planning permission for housing by 2020.
"Put simply - the Green Belt is protected with us," said the Prime Minister.
Mr Cameron said there was a "quiet crisis" going on in the UK, with "young people getting a job, working for years, saving away, but still unable to buy".
He said he wanted to help "the young people in their 20s and 30s still living with their parents, desperately saving for their own place ... T he couple who want a child but can't afford to upsize - even though they both have full-on, full-time jobs."
He said: "It shouldn't be this way. Our goal is a Britain where everyone who works hard can have a home of their own."
But Mr Miliband, answering questions from the public in Brighton, said: "David Cameron's plan on housing has failed Britain and failed families. For far too many people, the dream of home ownership is disappearing into the distance."
Under the scheme, first announced with a target of 100,000 homes at the Conservative Party conference in September, the Government would release cheaper, commercial brownfield land for housebuilding - with properties reserved for first-time buyers aged under 40.
Such land is not normally made available for housebuilding and can be bought more cheaply, with firms signing up to pass on the savings to the buyer. Public sector land which is surplus to requirements will also be brought in to the scheme.
Properties would be exempt from most of the taxes imposed on new homes, such as the social housing requirement and the community infrastructure levy - allowing the minimum 20% discount.
Prices would be capped at £250,000 outside London or £450,000 in the capital.
"Some of the UK's biggest property developers have signed up - including Barratt and Taylor Wimpey," said Mr Cameron in a speech in Colchester, Essex.
"Just this weekend we officially launched the website for buyers to register interest.
"We've shown what we expect Starter Homes to look like: decent, well-built, homes - places to start and raise a family.
"So we are going to take this good idea and accelerate it. I can announce today that the next Conservative government would build not just 100,000 starter homes, but 200,000 starter homes, g iving more young people the security of owning a home, rewarding hard work, making this a country where if you put in, you will get out."
Mr Cameron said that the country had been "chronically under-building" homes since the 1960s, but declared "Britain is building again".
He said that the last year had seen 240,000 grants of planning permission, and that work had started on almost 140,000 new homes in 2014, compared with 120,000 in 2013 and 100,000 in 2012.
"If we continue on this current trajectory then we will be building 200,000 homes a year not by 2020, as Labour hope to achieve, but by 2017.
Labour is committed to increasing the number of new homes being built each year to 200,000 by 2020 by threatening to take land from developers who fail to use it, doing more public sector building and building a new generation of garden cities.
It also proposes action to protect tenants including three-year contracts with rent-rise ceilings and a ban on excessive letting fees.
Responding to Mr Cameron's speech, the chief executive of housing charity Shelter, Campbell Robb, said: " Our housing shortage has been decades in the making, and all those struggling to cope with expensive and insecure private renting are bearing the brunt.
"Two hundred thousand homes over the course of a Parliament sounds good on the surface, but in reality this is giving with one hand and taking with the other. Removing the requirement on developers to build affordable housing is extremely worrying, and won't help those currently struggling with sky high housing costs.
"Politicians of all parties need to convince voters that they can solve this crisis once and for all. More piecemeal schemes won't do - we need a big bold plan that will fix our broken house-building market for the long term, and finally put a stable home back within reach for generation rent."
In a question and answer session with members of the public in Brighton, Labour leader Ed Miliband said Mr Cameron's plan on housing had "failed Britain and failed families".
"There is no bigger priority for the next Labour government than building homes again in our country," he said.
"Because frankly right across the board - it's not just this government, but it is this government - we haven't done enough as a country on housing.
"Under this government we are building fewer homes than at any time since the 1920s and record high numbers of families are being forced to rent," he said.
"For far too many people the dream of home ownership is disappearing into the distance.
"Labour has a better plan to build hundreds of thousands of new homes, ensure that local first time buyers are given priority and get a fairer deal for millions of families that rent."
Peter Box, housing spokesman for the Local Government Association, which is calling on ministers to free councils to build 500,000 new homes, said: "New starter homes cannot be built in isolation and under these plans, starter homes would be built without any wider community needs.
"Where there is a development of starter homes with implications for local infrastructure, such as schools, community centres, transport links and flood defences, then government funding should be provided to meet these demands.
"Further analysis and evidence is needed to convince councils that applying these exemptions would actually be sufficient to fund building on difficult brownfield sites as well as being able to pass on the savings in the form of a 20% discount on completed homes."
Ukip housing spokesman Andrew Charalambous asked: "Has David Cameron now conceded that Ukip have won the housing debate and that there was never any real need to build on our countryside?
"Ukip have persistently argued that there are over 66,000 hectares of brownfield land in England alone - a third of which are in high-growth areas like London and the South East - which should have been the focus of our housing supply.
"In truth, the Tory Lib Dem coalition have given big developers carte blanche licence to build homes on greenfield to quench big business thirst for more profit, rather than the community need for more homes.
"Cameron is blatantly misleading the British people by claiming the green belt is protected under the Tories when no British government has presided over such wholesale destruction of countryside and green spaces as the present Tory one"