THE loss of nearly 150,000 cheaper homes for rent across the region lies at the heart of its housing crisis, ministers were warned last night.

The number of council and housing association homes has plunged by 36 per cent in the 30 years since Margaret Thatcher introduced the right-to-buy policy figures have revealed.

Even that huge fall masked much bigger declines in parts of the North-East – particularly in County Durham (48.6 per cent), Stockton (36.7 per cent) and Redcar and Cleveland (34.5 per cent).

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In total, there are now only 264,525 social housing properties across the North-East and North Yorkshire, down from nearly 415,000 back in 1981.

Meanwhile, waiting lists for housing have rocketed because, critics argue, the homes that were sold off have not been replaced.

The statistics were published as the Government ordered the sale of up to £10bn of publicly-owned land – around hospitals, schools, military bases and roads – to allow 100,000 homes to be built.

Whitehall departments and local councils will be required to identify surplus land, some of which will be sold under a build now, buy later deal, allowing cash-strapped developers to pay up once the homes are completed.

But Shelter, the charity for the homeless, questioned how many of the homes would be affordable for low-earners – given the need for the Treasury to maximise its profits from land sales.

Campbell Robb, its chief executive, said: “We have 1.8 million households on waiting lists, more and more families stuck in an insecure private rented sector and millions priced out of the housing market.

“A lack of affordable housing is the root cause. It is absolutely essential that local authorities start prioritising spending on housing delivery to meet need.”

Last week, young people were dubbed Generation Rent, because so many believed they would never be able to afford to get on the property ladder – making renting more likely.

The Northern Echo: Social Housing 'Collapse' Table