PM pledges new housing help for families

Thousands of young families were promised extra help to get on the property ladder by the prime minister yesterday as a former East Anglian airbase was touted as a prime candidate for the government's house-building programme.

Thousands of young families were promised extra help to get on the property ladder by the prime minister yesterday as a former East Anglian airbase was touted as a prime candidate for the government's house-building programme.

Gordon Brown placed low cost homes at the centre of his political agenda demand that three million new properties are built by 2020 - some 250,000 more than the government's existing target.

But he appeared to dash hopes of a £20m casino for Yarmouth after announcing that the government's controversial money spinning gaming policies would be reviewed.

In his new pre-Queen's Speech 'summer statement', Mr Brown gave centre stage to his efforts to assist would-be homeowners and improve social housing provision.

He revealed that English Partnerships, the government's regeneration agency, is already working with the Ministry of Defence to release six or more sites with space for more than 7,000 properties - but officials would not disclose if remaining land at the former RAF base at Coltishall, which Mr Brown was previously urged to turn into a new eco-town, is on the list.

Further negotiations are under way with the Department for Transport, the Highways Agency and the British Railways Board Residuary Body, while the Department of Health is urgently reviewing its surplus land.

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Measures will include acquisitioning hundreds of disused publicly-owned sites for new homes and a streamlined planning system to ensure that major building programmes are waved through more quickly.

“Putting affordable housing within the reach of not just the few, but the many, is vital both to meeting individual aspirations and to securing a better future for the country,” Mr Brown told MPs.

He pledged a Housing and Regeneration Bill to merge English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation into a new agency tasked with increasing social and affordable housing.

More than 550 Government-owned sites are under consideration to make way for 100,000 new homes, while councils are under pressure to give up brownfield land with space for another 60,000.

He also moved to reassure environmentalists by ruling out a review of the green-belt map and insisting that new homes would be built “principally” on brownfield sites.

The plans were welcomed by housing organisations and builders, but the Tories insisted Mr Brown was himself responsible for “kicking a whole generation off the housing ladder” through the tax regime.

Critics also accused him of recycling old housing policies and said there was little new in the announcement.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, urged the government to flesh out its plans and end the uncertainty over the Coltishall site.

“I will press the MOD and English Partnerships to see if Coltishall is on the list - it's certainly something that should be explored,” he said. “The Home Office still hasn't made a decision about whether to use it as a removal site.

“What frustrates me is that I called for the same thing to happen at West Raynham - it was an ideal opportunity to build houses.”

Tim Godden, from the Norfolk Rural Community Council, feared the measures would do little to tackle shortages beyond built up urban areas.

“None of it is anything particularly new - we have heard it all before,” he said.

Simon Woodbridge, leader of Broadland district council and chairman of the greater Norwich partnership said most council owned land had already been identified in existing housing plans, but there could be scope for NHS sites in the county to be developed for housing such as the West Norwich Hospital site or the former PCT headquarters on the outskirts of the city in Thorpe.

“Nothing has changed,” he said. “It really feels like spin coming out. You can't get more housing until you put more money into the infrastructure.”

Housing charity Shelter welcomed the commitment to new homes but urged the Government to ensure there were an additional 20,000 social rented homes a year.

Adam Sampson, chief executive, said: “Gordon Brown's commitment to build three million new homes by 2020 is a major boost for families through the country, and should help young people finally get a foot on the housing ladder.

“If he is to fulfil his promise of housing opportunities for all he must also ensure social housing is a key part of his plans as well as affordable and private market housing.”

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