UK General Election: The potential impact of a future Labour government on sustainability in social housing

Posted: 4th June 2024 Natalie McClay, Junior Sustainability & ESG Consultant

On the 24th May, when Rishi Sunak announced the upcoming UK general election, it felt as though all eyes had turned to the Labour Party. Polling projections predict that Labour could secure upwards of 400 seats in the Commons when the UK heads to the polls on the 4th July, suggesting we could be on track for the first Labour government since 2010. Housing providers are beginning to consider how a Labour government may impact their transition to net zero. Here, the policies that have been announced and discussed publicly, will be reviewed in anticipation of the manifesto, mindful that things may change once it is released.

Analysis by Friends of the Earth rated each party based on the green policies that they have adopted to date. Labour scored 51 to the Conservatives’ 27, with the Liberal Democrats and the Greens ahead on 68 and 82 respectively.

While Labour lacks a commitment to legally binding Climate Change Act targets, they propose a ‘net zero test’ for all government spending. Under Keir Starmer, Labour has introduced various green policies – for example the Green Prosperity Plan – but these have been scaled back. The initial pledge of £28 billion annually for a green transition was reduced to £23.7 billion for Labour’s first term in the summer of 2023, following Conservative Party messaging that this evidenced that Labour would be irresponsible with the economy.

Despite a few U-turns, one aspect of Labour’s strategy which has remained in place is the five missions which were launched in February 2023. These included the Party’s ‘clean energy’ ambition, showing that green prosperity is still on the agenda for Labour. On the other hand, the Party has insisted that “North Sea oil and gas will continue for decades to come”, placing some doubt on whether Labour policy will be ambitious enough to enable the country to achieve net zero.

So far, nothing has been mentioned by Labour about biodiversity net gain. Ed Miliband has however stated that “There can be no solution to the climate crisis without action on nature” and that “the threat to biodiversity is profound”. Mr Miliband has indicated that we will need to wait for the manifesto to see exactly what the Party has planned.

In April 2024 an outline of the Labour Housing Plan was released, including the Warm Homes Plan. This aims to increase energy efficiency and reduce household bills by upgrading millions of homes. A policy document states that Labour plan to work in partnership with businesses, local government, and the third sector to insulate homes, making them warmer and cheaper to heat. This will be something to keep an eye on, as it may lead to an expansion of existing grant funding such as the Great British Insulation Scheme, ECO4 and/or Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, or result in a new scheme altogether.

Now that the general election has been announced, other pieces of Labour policy have also begun to filter through, which also tie in with the Party’s commitment of 1.5million new homes. To support delivery of this target, Labour commits to prioritising building on brownfield land, reclassifying some low-quality green belt areas as ‘grey belt’, as outlined in the Labour ‘six first steps for change’. Furthermore, on the 22nd of May, a pledge was made to work with the private sector to build so-called “new towns”. Angela Rayner, the Deputy Leader, also set out plans for a new generation of the “new towns” built after World War Two. The deputy Labour leader also promised that 40% of new developments would be affordable homes. The Party has been clear that this will require planning system reforms, which we hope will not bring an end to Environmental Impact Assessments which inhibit potentially environmentally damaging developments.

Ministers have hinted about aspects of other policies, but as they haven’t officially been announced, it is unclear whether they will be committed to in the manifesto. Matthew Pennycook, the Shadow Housing Minister, said that if Labour were to win the election, it was likely the right-to-buy discounts would be returned to the level at which they stood before they were raised by Conservative ministers. In a briefing document, it was stated that “Labour will set out more of our plans to accelerate to net zero, including on decarbonising transport, land, buildings, and finance”. For now, housing providers must await the release of the manifesto.

Should Labour come into power, there are a few areas we will be looking to. The first is the Decent Homes Standard consultation, which has been postponed by the Conservative government, but would complement Labour’s new build and retrofit plans. This may tie in with any changes to the Future Homes Standard. In addition, reviewing changes to nutrient neutrality or how the planning system will be reformed to ensure it interacts appropriately with climate change. Will any legislation regarding whole life carbon assessments or measuring embodied carbon be introduced?

For now, all we can do is watch this space, and Altair will be conducting a full manifesto review upon its release. With the amount of uncertainty and inaction that the UK has seen on green policy in recent years, we hope that a future government brings the swift and decisive decisions that the sector needs.

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