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The housing crisis can only be solved through political will - by Ed Miliband

Ed MillibandIn recent months, Labour has been setting out detailed plans for how we will act to tackle the cost of living crisis across Britain and in London.

For millions of families in the capital, the costs of buying or renting are the most pressing of all of the mounting demands in that crisis.  And for many of those Londoners who used to dream of owning their own home, their hopes are fading as fast as the prices rise beyond their reach.

The cause is simple: there is a chronic shortage of affordable homes in Britain, and nowhere is this clearer than in London.

For a growing number of Londoners, housing costs are the most pressing of all the mounting demands on their wages. These have become the most worrying part of a cost-of-living crisis for more families than ever before.

The Evening Standard's campaigning journalism over recent months has exposed both the scale and some of the root causes of this problem.

It is a problem for young people desperate to find somewhere to live, for families trying to get on the housing ladder,  and it is also causing deep difficulty for employers both in the public and private sector. Indeed, the CBI recently highlighted the cost and lack of suitable housing for skilled employees as the biggest threat to London's position as one of the world's greatest cities for business.

The shortage did not begin with this government but, under David Cameron, it is getting much worse. In the past three years, the number of homes built across the country has been lower than at any time since the 1920s.  Britain is  building less than half the number of houses we need to succeed and prosper. The country deserves so much better.

In London, the Mayor set himself an annual target of 40,000 new homes.  Many experts believed that was inadequate. But last year he built only half that number. London deserves better too.

No wonder the average house price in our capital is predicted to rise to an eye watering £600,000 by 2018, while private rents now consume more than half of incomes for many low to middle income families.

There are 180,000 families on the waiting list here for social housing and some of those renting privately are finding themselves in the clutches of some unscrupulous, rogue  landlords and letting agents

In these circumstances, it is scandalous that entire blocks of new homes are standing empty, having been marketed and then sold exclusively to investors from abroad on a "buy-to-leave" deal - without Londoners even getting a look-in.

The next Labour government will act. We will tackle the shortage of homes in London and across Britain and lead a non-stop drive for more homes. We will stand up for first-time buyers and homebuilders. We will address the scandals in the private rented sector and close the loopholes which allows desperately-needed housing to stand empty for years.

Our drive to build new homes is also about sustainable development.  The terrible flooding of recent weeks shows why new housing must be able to withstand or avoid the shocks that we must all acknowledge are likely to come more often with climate change.

It will take careful and strategic planning. It has been done before---under the post-war Labour government led by Clement Atlee which, from a standing start after the devastation of the war in 1945, was building nearly 200,000 homes a year by 1950.

The most important ingredient that has been missing with this government is political will. That's why I have made a firm promise: under the next Labour government, Britain will again be building at least 200,000 decent homes a year by 2020.

To achieve our ambition, and go further, I have appointed Sir Michael Lyons to lead an independent housing commission with one aim; delivering a roadmap of how the next Labour Government can begin addressing the housing shortage immediately on entering office.

A key plank in achieving our target will be creating new towns  in sustainable locations where people want to live, just like earlier generations did in places like Stevenage and Milton Keynes. Labour will kick-start the next generation of new towns and Garden Cities around the capital to ease the pressure on London.

Some of the new housing needed will come from taking action against  home-blocking local authorities that have frustrated planning proposals from  neighbouring authorities  for years. Four Labour-controlled councils have signed up to become the first "Right to Grow" local authorities where there is immediate potential to build 40,000 new homes in these areas.

Still more of the new homes that London and Britain needs will be built on sites long since earmarked for housing but which has remained undeveloped in investment land banks.  Labour will introduce a "use it or lose it" policy so that, as a last resort, communities can compulsorily purchase land where there is planning permission for homes but where none are being built.

And Londoners must be given a real chance to buy or rent these new homes. We will stop developers advertising properties overseas first and ensure they are available for the people that really need them. We will give Councils proper powers to tackle "buy-to-leave". We will consult on allowing councils to double the amount of additional Council Tax they can charge on empty properties.  And close loopholes which mean homes are not considered empty if they are furnished with just a single table and chair.

Finally, Labour has set out radical plans to reform the private rented sector where one-in-four Londoners now live. We have committed to regulating letting agents and ending rip-off fees. We will introduce a national register of landlords to protect the good ones, drive out the bad, and raise the standard of the homes for rent.

Labour's local councils in London are already doing their bit to tackle the housing crisis. They have built twice as many affordable homes as Tory Councils - and five times as many as Liberal Democrats - since 2010.

And they are taking action to improve the quality of homes too. Newham has rapidly improved standards and reduced anti-social behaviour by licencing landlords, while Hackney has launched its own lettings agency to reduce the cost of fees and charges to local residents.

But the housing crisis in Britain and in London will not be solved until the determination of these councils is matched at the centre of power in Downing Street.

A One Nation Labour government would show that determination so that we can meet the aspirations of the people of our capital city and our country.

Ed Miliband, Leader of the Labour Party

Hackney Labour is holding a public meeting about London's Housing Crisis on Tuesday 25th February

See details here >

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