A senior official from the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources has lashed out at property speculators, calling them 'evil' for spreading rumours of a land shortage and driving up housing costs. In an interview aired on Thursday night on China Central Television, Vice-Minister Lu Xinshe criticised some developers for capitalising on the state policy of tightening up the land supply, which was introduced to help prevent property bubbles. Mr Lu said land supply grew by 4 per cent across the country last year despite a State Council freeze on land-release approvals. He said some groups had exaggerated the effect of the freeze in an attempt to panic the market and push up land prices. 'If housing could be built on existing undeveloped sites and offered for sale, it would significantly lift the commercial housing-supply pressure, feed the demand and ... ease housing prices,' he said. Data released by the ministry suggests that by the end of last year, 263,740 hectares, 7.8 per cent of the total urban area set aside for construction, remained unused. 'My heart is heavy because we originally could have done better, but many aspects hindered us reaching our goals,' Mr Lu said. The vice-minister said the department would increase land supply, clean up undeveloped areas and try to control housing prices. He accused local governments and developers of driving up prices by leaving some land undeveloped. In some cases, local governments had invited developers to build projects but financial problems prevented the projects from being realised. The local authorities could not punish the developers for fear of damaging the local investment environment. Local self-interest was also the main obstacle preventing the execution of central government policies governing land issues, but the state was prepared to act. 'If the local governments neglect to implement policy, our ministry will execute it directly when necessary,' Mr Lu said.