Reducing number of new homes will restrict the whole economy

One of the more ridiculous statements by communities secretary Eric Pickles - on a lengthening list - is that former housing and planning minister Nick Raynsford did more damage to the nation's housing than the Luftwaffe.

Some saw his remark as typical political hyperbole, given the previous government's record on house building. Others, mindful of the wartime death and destruction in our cities, regarded it as distasteful.

Either way, the quote is now bombing big time. Since Pickles revoked regional spatial strategies and their associated house building targets, the equivalent of 1,300 homes have been stripped out of the planning pipeline each day.

Research by Tetlow King for the National Housing Federation shows that plans for 160,000 homes have already been dropped.

By this time next year, the figure is expected to reach around 300,000. That's more than two-and-a-half years' worth of development on the scrapheap.

With just 123,000 homes built last year, the folly of abolishing one planning system without putting another in place is obvious. An atrocious situation is being made worse.

Ministers point to the much-vaunted new homes bonus as the policy that will rescue the country. Yet surely the fact that around 70 councils have halted development plans, slashed housing numbers or postponed local plan inquiries tells another story.

With many more to follow, councils have looked at what little detail is available on incentives and voted with their feet.

One powerful school of thought argues that councils should accept that localism is down to them and plan to meet future demand. Unfortunately, it's not happening. Even if bonus incentives prove to be the magic bullet, they are still months, if not years, from taking effect.

Apart from the stimulus to the wider economy that house building brings, this is hardly inspiring confidence in parts of the private sector looking for new investment opportunities. Their employees need homes too, and the country's population continues to rise rapidly. This is the very real deficit ministers should be tackling.

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