UK Politics

Housing minister Grant Shapps attacks 'Legoland' homes

Housing estate
Image caption Grant Shapps says he wants more variety in new developments

Housing minister Grant Shapps has warned housebuilders and architects against building what he calls "Legoland" developments in England.

He says identical houses ruined a sense of community and houses should be more in tune with local areas.

But the Home Builders Federation accused Mr Shapps of using "emotive" language that did not reflect what developers were actually building.

Mr Shapps is under pressure to boost the number of new homes being built.

It follows figures last month which revealed the number of new homes completed in England last year was 102,570 - the lowest level since 1923 and down 13% on 2009.

Separate figures also show the average age of first time buyers has increased and there are about five million people on local authority waiting lists.

The government is also under pressure to kick start economic growth ahead of the Budget on 23 March.

One idea, floated by Mr Shapps in the Financial Times, is for a "build now, pay later" scheme, which will see builders given land by the government with no need to pay for it until they have built and sold properties.

There are understood to be thousands of hectares of previously developed land suitable for the building of new homes, which the FT says could deliver 226,000 new homes.

The idea is believed to be in the early stages of development - but it has been welcomed by the housebuilding industry, which says lack of suitable land is holding back new development as much as the squeeze on mortgages.

'Policy vacuum'

But the industry was less impressed by Mr Shapps' comments about "Legoland" homes and "banal" developments.

The housing minister told BBC News that new houses should not feel like "an identikit Legoland home".

"I'm afraid too often you walk into a cul-de-sac and it just could be anywhere in the country. And I think that sense of community, that sense of belonging is really important to the quality of life."

But the Home Builders Federation said the industry could not deliver more of the homes local people wanted until the government finalised its plans to decentralise planning laws.

HBF chief executive Stewart Baseley said: "Developers already build a range of house types and designs, homes that overwhelmingly surveys show customers are happy with.

"Politicians need to be focusing on ensuring that they develop policies that create an environment in which developers can deliver the homes the country needs - and help meet the government's commitment to build more.

"This means finalising changes to the planning system to ensure enough land in the right places becomes available; and cutting the regulation and bureaucracy that currently makes too many potential housing sites non viable."

The building industry claims planning permission approvals have continued to fall since the coalition government came to power last May - due to its effective scrapping of Labour's local planning regime without replacing it, creating a "policy vacuum".

Shadow housing minister Alison Seabeck, for Labour, said: "Rather than looking down their noses at "Legoland homes", ministers should be focusing their efforts on tackling the shocking collapse in new house building which has taken place since the Tory-led government came to office."

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