Blair Housing Guru Warns Labour on 1.5 Million Housebuilding Aim

(Bloomberg) -- A pledge by Britain’s Labour opposition to build 1.5 million homes in five years would be a “Herculean task” and “very difficult” to pull off, according to Tony Blair’s housing guru.

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Kate Barker — who led a 2004 review into housing supply for the government of then-Prime Minister Blair — warned the party that it’s “not that easy just to turn the taps on again.” She noted worker shortages and planning issues make building difficult.

The former Bank of England’s rate-setter remarks highlight doubts about measures Labour says it would take to ease the housing crisis quickly after years of misfiring efforts to boost supply.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has pledged to overhaul Britain’s burdensome and slow planning system to build more houses and placate younger voters, who are overwhelmingly backing his party ahead of the election on July 4.

However, the Conservative government has struggled to meet its 2019 manifesto pledge to build 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s. A recent poll by YouGov suggested that fewer than 10% of Britons under 50 are backing the Tories, who are on course for a heavy defeat.

“Somehow you’re going to have to have found the people to build them and got the planning through, so this is a really Herculean task,” Barker said in an online event for the think tank Radix Big Tent.

Some 20 years on from her influential review for Blair’s government, Barker is leading a commission on housing shortages for Radix.

Housebuilding has failed to keep up with rampant demand in recent decades, meaning many younger Britons struggle to get a foot on the property ladder. The shortages have been exacerbated by insufficient housebuilding colliding with a rapidly rising population, often fueled by high levels of immigration.

The government has fallen well short of its housebuilding aim from the 2019 election, adding 234,400 homes to the country’s supply in 2022-23, according to government figures.

Barker said it is “very disappointing” to see the scale of the housing crisis 20 years on from her report, pointing to the impact of the financial crisis on efforts to boost supply. Her review had urged the government boost housebuilding to bring house prices more in line with the EU average.

“Coming out of the crisis, the collapse in the construction industry had had all sorts of effects because these skills and the abilities to find sites, to make sites work, doesn’t just happen overnight,” she said. “It really took a long time for the industry to get back on its feet.”

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