A SHADOW Minister has visited a new council housing development in York - and pledged hundreds of thousands of badly needed new homes will be built if Labour is elected.

Hilary Benn, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, was accompanying York Central Parliamentary candidate Rachael Maskell on a visit yesterday to Garage Court in Hewley Avenue, Tang Hall, where eight new homes are being created by City of York Council.

He also viewed the massive York Central site behind the railway station, where about 800 new homes are planned.

He said Labour had devised a programme which would deliver 200,000 new homes a year by 2020, some of which would be earmarked for local first time buyers.

He said there was a big need for housing in York. "York is growing, people are on the waiting list, house prices are sky high," he said. "This is going to provide homes for eight families off the waiting list but we need to do a lot more.

"We are saying that if you just try to crank up the existing house building system, that's not going to meet the need, so we need a fundamental change.

"The deal works like this: communities have got to take responsibility for having a plan and identifying sites and giving planning permission, and in return a Labour Government will give councils the tools to enable them to build the kind of homes they want, in the places they want."

He said the Government would provide 'use it or lose it' powers to deal with sites where developers had been given planning permission but were not building.

"I think it is perfectly fair for local communities to say that if you had built by now, we would be getting council tax so we will levy a charge, and in the most extreme cases to use compulsory purchase powers."

Later he visited the Inn on the Green in Acomb to meet licensees Gail and Les Errity and then the Carlton Tavern in Acomb Road to meet pensioners enjoying a monthly luncheon and get-together, thanks to a Young at Heart group aimed at tackling problems of loneliness and isolation amongst the elderly.

"It seems a wonderful scheme," he said.