New Housing Minister Kris Hopkins today denies Bradford has a homes crisis – and accuses Council chiefs of failing to exploit the “huge amount of land on offer”.
In an interview to mark three months as a minister, the Keighley MP rejected the “crisis” word used by the National Housing Federation to describe Bradford’s plight.
Instead, Mr Hopkins – while admitting to a “challenge” – called for a redoubling of efforts to provide the extra thousands of new homes the district needs.
But he also vowed he would be “pushing back” to protect green fields in his own constituency, despite David Cameron’s orders to hit housebuilding targets.
Mr Hopkins said the extra homes could be found by: l Looking to Bradford’s canal area – saying: “There is a great opportunity for 20,000 houses. I’d like to see that project expand and accelerate.”
l Bringing empty homes – which were particularly common in areas with large Asian populations – back into use l Identifying and selling off local Council-owned land – allowing the authority to tap into extra Government funds.
Mr Hopkins said: “The word crisis has been rolled out time and time again. I think there’s a challenge that needs to be addressed.
“I think the Council is facing up to it in its local plan, but Bradford itself is not short of land – particularly around the canal area.
“When I look back to the stock transfer, there was a huge amount of land retained by the Council on our old housing estates. We need to utilise some of that.
“It’s not just about building new houses, but about getting empty houses back into use as well. If we can do that, we can really make a difference.
“Lots of grandparents and parents went out and bought homes, particularly in Kashmiri and Pakistani communities, and we need to make sure those empty houses are brought back in.”
Growing pressure to build more homes has sparked fears that the district’s green and beautiful spaces will be concreted over – but Mr Hopkins insisted that was unnecessary.
Indeed, he vowed to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with residents in the Wharfe Valley against what he described as “outrageous” housebuilding targets.
The minister said: “The challenge is in the centre. The housing population boom is not in Keighley and Ilkley – it’s in the centre of Bradford.
“Taking my ministerial hat off and putting my MP’s hat on, some of the figures they’ve talked about across Keighley and Shipley are outrageous.
“I’m sure Philip Davies would say the same and we will certainly be pushing back on those.
“There’s one road running through the centre of the Wharfe Valley and it couldn’t cope. Look at Addingham, where I think 5,000 houses was suggested, a ridiculous number.
“It is an easier process for the Council to look around its green fields – the leafy bits of the district.
“It needs to go back into the centre and ask, ‘Where are the brownfield sites?’ ‘How can we bring the empty homes back into use?’ ”
Fears of a Bradford housing crisis were stoked late last year, when the National Housing Federation warned “prices were spiralling out of the reach of people”.
The average house price is £142,000, yet average annual earnings are £18,500. Meanwhile, more than 20,000 people are stuck on a waiting list for social housing.
Labour-run Bradford Council has acknowledged the district needs an extra 42,000 homes by 2030, which involves building more than 2,000 each year, but only about 900 are built, of which only a small proportion are “affordable”.
The report came out around the same time as official figures revealed the number of affordable homes built across the country had plummeted by 26 per cent.
But Mr Hopkins insisted: “The Prime Minister has asked me to go out and deliver our housing commitment. That’s 170,000 affordable houses – to build them all by 2015.
“We’ve built nearly 100,000 already, so – with 16 months to go to the election – we are slightly ahead of target.”