Margaret Beckett: 'We have to consider how to get back on track'
A government pledge to build three million affordable new homes by 2020 is in trouble because of the recession, the housing minister has said.
Margaret Beckett said the government must now look at ways to put the programme "back on track" once the downturn comes to an end.
She said the government was doing what it could to help the building industry.
But housing bodies are calling on the government to do more, including invest in the UK's one million empty homes.
In 2007, Gordon Brown promised to build three million affordable homes to help reduce the housing waiting list, which now stands at nearly five million.
But Mrs Beckett said of the targets: "They were set because of the predicted levels of household growth - that is not going away.
"So of course we're in difficulty at the present time because there is very little building.
"But what we have to do now is to consider how we can tackle that," she told BBC News.
What we're not going to do is do the jobs that local authorities should be doing
Margaret Beckett, housing minister
"Now we have to consider when this recession comes to an end, which it will, some day, how can we get back on track."
Richard Diment, of the Federation of Master Builders, said it was unlikely the targets would be met.
He said house building was at about 20% the rate that it was 12 months ago, making it "extremely difficult" to hit the targets.
Mrs Beckett insisted the government was doing all it could to help, including bringing forward £1.2bn of investment in construction, maintenance and repairs.
"We're doing everything we can to sustain and support [the construction industry].
"We're working with them to prepare for the upturn when it comes," she added.
The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) suggested the only way to deal with the current housing problem was to renovate empty homes.
Simon Rubinsohn, of Rics, said: "While it's understandable that the government may not feel that this is the easiest way and perhaps the most opportune way of actually dealing with the problem, ultimately I think probably in the short-term, it is the only way."
David Ireland, head of the campaign group Empty Houses Agency, said the recession meant homes that became empty were staying empty.
Empty homes 'important' to scheme
He urged for policy change to ensure any investment was correctly targeted and called for housing associations to shift their focus from new builds to regeneration.
Sir Bob Kerslake, chief executive of the government's Homes and Communities Agency, accepted the government should be doing what it could to put empty properties back into use.
But he said they were empty for a number of reasons, including probate or refurbishment and about half were occupied again within six months.
Margaret Beckett said if there were empty homes the government could help, but urged the local authorities to do more to find them and make them habitable.
"What we're not going to do is do the jobs that local authorities should be doing.
"They do have opportunities, they do have their own resources and you know we're keen that they are more pro-active than sometimes some of them have been on this subject," she said.
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