(Adds quotes, details, company reaction)
By Costas Pitas
LONDON Feb 7 Britain set out plans on Tuesday
to make renting more affordable, protect tenants and punish
developers for not building quickly enough, in a shift away from
decades of policy almost solely promoting home ownership.
In a white paper entitled "Fixing our broken housing
market", the government laid out proposals to build more homes
for rent, extend the length of tenancies and change planning
laws to encourage developers to boost supply for renters.
Amid signs that housebuilding will not meet demand for many
years to come, it also said local councils may be given power to
rescind planning permission or even take control of land from
developers who fail to build quickly enough once it is granted.
Since then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher began selling
off council homes in the 1980s, very little social housing has
been built, with successive governments instead seeking to help
those trying to get a foot on the property ladder.
As a consequence, demand has outstripped supply in many
areas of the country, pushing up the average price of a property
to more than eight times average earnings and forcing many
people to spend up to half their income on rent.
"We need to look after people who are renting as well (as
buyers) and in the past I think many governments have focused
too much just on ownership," communities minister Sajid Javid
told Sky News.
A previously announced 7 billion pound ($8.7 billion)
programme to build 225,000 properties by 2021 was originally
limited to those wishing to buy at least a share of the home,
but will now be opened up to tenants.
The measures, including support for smaller developers, are
designed to increase the number of new homes coming onto the
market in England from 190,000 units a year to at least 250,000,
after decades of falling short.
Despite years of bipartisan efforts to increase supply,
there are signs that housebuilding could stall.
Britain's biggest housebuilder Barratt said last
month it might build fewer homes in the current financial year
and flagged a drop in completions of over 50 percent in London,
which it blamed on build cycles and land prices.
A closely watched leading indicator of future housing supply
fell nationwide by 2 percent in 2016 and by a third in London,
according to industry data.
Builders are also concerned that any Brexit-imposed
restrictions on immigration could affect their ability to meet
demand, especially in the capital where a high proportion of
construction workers come from the European Union.
"It's all about having sufficient trades, sub-contractors
and suppliers to produce this increased output and that's
probably the biggest constraint to the sector," Ted Ayres, the
chief executive of builder Bellway, told Reuters.
"I suspect that we may well need further overseas labour if
we are going to achieve the output the government desire."
($1 = 0.8020 pounds)
(Editing by Catherine Evans)