Prime Minister Gordon Brown set a target on Wednesday of building three million new houses in Britain by 2020 under measures to tackle a growing crisis over a shortage of affordable homes.
Brown knows that solving the housing problem and improving public services may be crucial to his Labour Party winning a fourth successive general election, expected in 2009, in the face of a resurgent Conservative Party.
But Conservative leader David Cameron scoffed at Brown’s proposals, saying he had heard them all before.
Brown also said the government would consult widely on new counter-terrorism measures, including extending the 28-day limit on pre-charge detention for terrorism suspects.
Brown’s first days as prime minister after taking over from Tony Blair on June 27 were overshadowed by failed bomb attacks in London and Glasgow.
Brown highlighted housing and health as top priorities. Unusually, he gave an early glimpse of his legislative plans to allow time for public comments before he makes formal proposals in the Queen’s speech on November 6.
”I want us … to meet housing need by building over a quarter of a million more homes than previously planned, a total by 2020 of three million new homes for families across the country,” Brown told parliament.
For England, the annual house-building target would rise to 240 000 from 200 000 by 2016, he said.
He announced plans to create a new homes agency to bring surplus land into housing use and said a government agency was negotiating to acquire at least six major redundant sites from the Ministry of Defence to build 7 000 new homes.
House prices tripled in Britain during Blair’s decade in power, pricing many young people and the lower paid out of buying their own homes while there are long waiting lists for homes rented by local authorities.
Cameron seized on the fact that Brown played a pivotal role in Blair’s government and its policies over the past decade.
”We’ve heard it all before,” Cameron said. ”As the prime minister is the person who has broken the housing ladder, why should anyone think he is the right person to mend it?” — Reuters