When Theresa May called a snap election for 8 June, the policy making machines behind the UK’s political parties stirred into action, culminating in the release of their manifestoes. Though Brexit, social care and the NHS are the major talking points, housing policy is subject to some interesting developments. While there is no mention of self build in the manifesto of any major party, there are planned changes to the procurement of land, build standards and energy efficiency.
With the media dissecting the parties’ promises before the election, let’s explore what the major parties have in store for the housing market.
The Conservative Party, keen to solidify its dominant position and enhance its majority following a turbulent passage of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017 through the Houses, was the last of the three major parties to release its manifesto.
The 2015 Conservative manifesto had promised that 200,000 starter homes would be built by 2020. That pledge was repeated in March 2016 but was seemingly abandoned by the time the White Paper Fixing our Broken Housing Market was published in February 2017.
Fixing our Broken Housing Market called for local authorities to come up with long-term housing plans, the release of brownfield and surplus public land, reviewing space standards to build at higher densities in urban areas, releasing £2.3bn in funds through the Housing Infrastructure Fund to speed up house building, supporting custom build homes, encouraging modern methods of construction and continuing the Help to Buy scheme.
The manifesto of 2017, titled Forward, Together, sets out five major challenges that a Conservative government would seek to address, with housing not included in that list. However, there were some major housing policies included.
A Conservative government would build 1.5m new homes by 2022, with the complementary promise that “more homes will not mean poor quality homes”. It also reaffirmed its commitment to the reforms detailed in the White Paper, including giving local authorities powers to intervene “where developers do not act on their planning permissions”. A stated aim is, according to the manifesto, to “diversify who builds homes in this country”.
There was also no mention of a return to the Code for Sustainable Homes and no commitment to zero carbon buildings.
Media commentators have devoted plenty of column inches to whether Jeremy Corbyn’s 2017 manifesto was more of a throwback to Michael Foot’s ‘longest suicide note in history’ of 1983, or the Harold Wilson era.
The headline housing promises from the Labour Party of 2017 are a new Department for Housing tasked with “improving the number, standards and affordability of homes”, investment to build “over one million new homes” and consultation on minimum space standards to prevent ‘rabbit hutch’ properties and on new modern standards for building zero carbon homes.
In the days before Labour’s 2017 manifesto was officially launched, titled For the Many Not the Few, a draft of the document was leaked to the press and published in full. There are some differences between the two documents.
The sentence: “Homeowners will be offered 0% loans to improve their property, and we will introduce revenue-neutral stamp duty incentives to encourage a good energy efficiency standard at the point of sale,” was replaced by “Homeowners will be offered interest-free loans to improve their property,” with the provision for incentives for energy efficiency removed.
A section that read “A Labour government will legislate to enforce the highest modern standards for ‘zero carbon’ buildings that generate as much energy on site as they use in heating, hot water and lighting. The technology is there,” has also been removed, replaced by a commitment to consult on ‘new modern standards’ for zero carbon housing.
The Liberal Democrat Party is positioning itself as a party of opposition, admitting in the foreword to the document that they will not form a government or enter a coalition with either Labour or the Conservatives.
The headline housing policy is the introduction of a Housing and Infrastructure Development Bank, which would fund the building of new ‘rent to buy’ homes, whereby rent payments would act as a form of mortgage. The Lib Dems also detail plans to provide local authorities with powers to enforce housebuilding on unwanted public sector land, penalise ‘land-banking’ where builders with planning permission don’t build after three years and establish local plans to account for 15 years of housing need.
Like the other parties, the Lib Dems set out a quantitative measure on new homebuilding, with a target of 300,000 new homes built a year and the creation of 10 new garden cities, which would include 500,000 zero carbon homes.
This makes the Liberal Democrat Party the only one of the major parties to commit to a zero carbon standard for new homes. It was a policy originally introduced by the Lib Dems during the coalition formed with the Conservatives, but later scrapped by the Tories.
There is also the promise of a Green Buildings Act which will set new energy efficiency targets, including every home in the UK to reach an energy rating of Band C by 2035.
I’ll be tweeting about this throughout the election cycle — you can follow me at @Nick_HBR