Housing is a big deal, but what do we know ahead of manifestos being published?

Posted: 6th June 2024 Gilly Tobin, Development and Regeneration Director

As we eagerly await manifesto publications, enough has been said by all parties to recognise housing as a crucial issue for the future, not only for individual households but for improving the strength of the economy. Conservative HQ have been very quiet on housing issues since the election was called. Perhaps housing is not a vote winner? Perhaps Gove’s decision to stand down as an MP means they are unsure what to say? They had already veered away from suggesting big targets for new homes last year; which correlated with the slowdown of new homes being built.

There were just over 234,000 additional homes delivered in England in 2022-23. Labour has promised 1.5 million homes in the first parliamentary term. That’s a big number – one that the Conservatives could not hit – but the ambition is clear. Not to leave out the Lib Dems, whose stated aspiration is 150,000 social homes a year, although they have admitted this isn’t funded. A key question in the policy vacuum is how to deliver new homes. The answer, as always, comes back to planning reform. Rachel Reeves said planning reform has ‘become a byword for political timidity in the face of vested interests and a graveyard of political ambition’. The predicted landslide victory suggests we could see great change to enable increased housing delivery; a challenge not tackled by any recent government.

For the Labour Party, there are two key policies of note behind the Get Britain Building initiative. Firstly, New Towns. The two main parties favour New Towns. It’s not a new idea (as I type from one of the country’s first Garden Cities), but when executed well, it can deliver the necessary infrastructure, volume of new homes and focus for change. Both sides rightly point out that the current planning system doesn’t always facilitate this. However, New Towns take time. Years in fact, not months, as our work at Harlow and Gilston shows. Secondly perhaps a quicker route to delivery, is grey belt development. A new term that avoids the challenge that Labour will build on the green belt, which could lead to new homes connected to existing communities, but not huge numbers.

For the Conservatives, whilst questions remain if they have delivered against their manifesto promise of 1 million homes this parliamentary period, their focus remains for now on levelling up and funding for towns across the UK. No new pledges have been made yet on housing, so perhaps no huge uptick in delivery if the landslide victory doesn’t materialise. None of what has been announced so far shows great promise, but perhaps the parties are keeping their cards close to their chests for now. A potential worry for voters just four weeks off an election.

What about households in all this? As expected first-time buyers feature in what has been said so far. For the Conservatives, that could mean an extension of Help-to-Buy, and for Labour that could mean ‘first dibs’ on new homes.  Accompanied by proposals for a mortgage guarantee system and increasing the stamp duty surcharge for foreign investors, Labour are keen to support homeownership. The timing of the election impacts some housing legislation which was expected to progress this summer for households. Good news, Leasehold reform made it through just before the election was called. Not so lucky was Gove’s promise to ban no-fault evictions before the election.

Perhaps the one thing all Parties are a bit quiet on is rent control; a topic that Scotland, with its devolved powers, has tackled this parliamentary term and one area that is likely to remain a point of difference across the UK. Whether housing will ever get a cabinet ministerial post is another thing, but one hopes that whoever walks into Number 10 next month keeps housing a priority, because we need more homes, better homes, and just as importantly, homes that people can afford.

Development and Regeneration

Through dynamic interim placements and project work, we guide registered providers, local authorities, and developers at every juncture of the development lifecycle. To find out more, visit our dedicated Development and Regeneration webpage, or contact Gilly Tobin, Director.

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