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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 July 2007, 06:35 GMT 07:35 UK
Plea to build new council houses
Couple browsing in estate agent's window
First-time buyers are finding it harder than ever to afford a home
A campaign group fighting for more council houses is holding its national conference, buoyed by Gordon Brown's plans for three million new homes.

Defend Council Housing, which is backed by tenants, trade unions and MPs, says there has never been a greater need to build more affordable social housing.

More than 1.5 million people on are on waiting lists, it says.

The prime minister has announced that council land could be used for 60,000 new affordable homes across England.

But critics says many of these will be built by private bodies not councils.

I don't think anybody wants to see a return to the big old council estates with the private executive estates on the other side of town
Yvette Cooper, Housing Minister

Announcing his plans in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Mr Brown promised to "put affordable housing within the reach of not just the few, but the many".

'Blackmailing tenants'

Only about 300 new council homes were built in England last year.

Uk housing by tenure

Campaigners say a key disincentive to building new homes is the requirement for councils to give a large proportion of any income from rent and right-to-buy sales back to the government.

The BBC's local government correspondent, John Andrew, said that in Chesterfield, in Derbyshire, for example, the council is only allowed to keep a quarter of its right-to-buy income.

Alan Walter, chairman of Defend Council Housing, told BBC Radio Five Live, he wants to see these restrictions removed.

"Government has been taking money out of council housing to subsidise other schemes - private housing included - and then blackmailing council tenants that if we want improvements to our homes and estates we've got to accept a privatisation option," he said.

"We've been rejecting that.

"There are three million council tenants across the UK and we're demanding the government invests to improve all council house and estates."

The majority of newly built social housing is now provided by housing associations - not-for-profit, independent businesses funded by government and rental incomes.

The number of homes owned by housing associations is rapidly approaching the number owned by local councils.

But Mr Walter said these associations were not answerable to tenants - unlike councils.

"We (council tenants) are able to hold our landlords to account, we actually elect our landlords," he said.

'Mixed communities'

Housing Minister Yvette Cooper said the government's Housing Green Paper out next week would give local authorities more flexibility to build.

But, she said, it would still require them to work in partnership with others, including housing associations, to provide social housing.

"I don't think anybody wants to see a return to the big old council estates with the private executive estates on the other side of town," Ms Cooper said.

"What we want are mixed communities."

Graph: Decline of Council Housing

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