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November 26, 2019
The Conservative Party has now published its manifesto ahead of the upcoming election. As you might expect, given the acute shortage of housing in the UK, the provision of housing featured prominently.
This post considers five central themes of Conservative policy aimed at increasing housing supply.
In addition to this post we have covered the Labour Party’s manifesto here and the Liberal Democrat manifesto here.

1. Build at least a million new homes over the next parliament

The manifesto commits a majority Conservative government to ‘continue to increase the number of homes being built’.

This will be achieved through continuing to progress towards the delivery of 300,000 homes each year by the mid-2020s. This will result in the delivery of at least one million new houses over the next parliament. These homes will be of all tenures and ‘in the areas that really need them’.

2. Retain the commitment to home ownership

A Conservative government would aim to ‘rebalance the housing market towards more home ownership’. As the manifesto states, this is a fundamental conservative value. This will be delivered predominantly through the following proposals:

  • Encouraging the establishment of a new market which will focus on providing ‘long-term fixed rate mortgages which slash the cost of deposits’ for first-time buyers.
  • Introducing a new mechanism whereby local authorities can use developer contributions to provide homes for local families discounted by a third, in perpetuity.
  • Retaining the ‘Right to Buy’ for all council tenants and the ‘voluntary Right to Buy scheme agreed with housing associations’. They have also committed to investigating where else this voluntary scheme could be piloted, following on from ‘the successful voluntary pilot scheme in the Midlands’.
  • Extending the Help to Buy scheme by two years from 2021 to 2023.

3. Bring forward a Social Housing White Paper and renew the Affordable Homes Programme

The Conservative Party have pledged to publish a Social Housing White Paper. This will be aimed at supporting the continued supply of new social housing and empowering tenants. It will also aim to ‘include measures to provide greater redress, better regulation and improve the quality of social housing’.

In addition to this, they have committed to renewing the Affordable Homes Programme. This programme makes grant funding available for the provision of Shared Ownership and other types of affordable homes and is described as being a key part of the party’s efforts to stop people from becoming homeless.

4. Establish a Towns Fund

Although not directly related to housing supply, the manifesto commits to ‘making sure that we share prosperity across the country, addressing the longstanding economic challenges in parts of the country.’ This involves establishing a Towns Fund which will initially be spent on improving the local economies of 100 towns.

5. Protect the Green Belt

A Conservative government will protect the Green Belt and continue to pursue a brownfield first strategy.

Some other points

There are a number of other pledges within the manifesto that are likely to affect the delivery of housing:

  • Reform and simplify Shared Ownership
  • Reform leasehold practices and ban the sale of new leasehold properties
  • Improve renting by abolishing ‘no fault’ evictions and introducing ‘lifetime deposits’
  • End rough sleeping by the end of the next parliament - partly funded by a stamp duty surcharge on overseas homebuyers
  • Make the planning system simpler and support modern methods of construction
  • Amend planning rules so that infrastructure is delivered before homes
  • Ask each community to decide on its own design standards
  • Implement all of the recommendations of the Hackitt Review on fire safety
  • Support more environmentally friendly homes

What impact will these proposals have?

The 2017 Conservative manifesto was light on detailed policies and was more focused on over-arching aspirations. This manifesto is similar in this regard but in addition to this the delivery of housing seems to have slightly slipped down the agenda.

The manifesto pledges to deliver over a million homes over the next parliament – this is the only firm commitment on how many homes a Conservative government would build. Given that we are currently building at a rate of just over 240,000 homes a year, a pledge to build at least 200,000 a year does not seem particularly ambitious. The party does commit themselves to continuing their ‘progress towards’ the target of delivering 300,000 homes a year but this is not particularly aspirational language. There is limited ability for the party to be held to account, should they fail to reach their target of 300,000.

The party also commits to providing these homes ‘in the areas that really need them’. The introduction of the ‘standard method’ for calculating local housing need has resulted in a huge reduction of the housing requirements for many local authorities in lower value property areas. These are precisely the areas where the new jobs and investment associated with house building are required. Unless the Conservative government make some fairly significant changes to the way that this is calculated then we struggle to see how this commitment will be delivered.

A new Social Housing White Paper and additional grant funding to deliver affordable housing would be welcomed and have the potential to make some positive change - albeit the government had already committed to the White Paper. Notwithstanding this, until we receive additional details on these two things it is hard to comment further.

Establishing a Towns Fund in order to try and tackle spatial inequality and address ‘longstanding economic challenges’ in some parts of the UK also has the potential to make some positive changes to the places that most need it. However, as noted above, as long as significant amounts of the country's housing requirement continues to be directed to higher value areas, it is unlikely that spatial inequality will be truly addressed.

The manifesto states that a Conservative government will support homes that have ‘low energy bills and which support [their] environmental targets’. Again, this is very light on detail so it is hard to comment too much, but it does not appear to be hugely aspirational – especially when the other two main parties have committed to requiring that all new homes are zero-carbon or better.

The manifesto also pledges to amend planning rules to ensure that infrastructure is delivered before new homes. This might not always be possible, though, without negatively impacting on development viability - cashflow is usually especially tight in the early stages of development when the land has been purchased and enabling works carried out but before revenue has started to be generated. It is also unclear how this will mesh with current planning requirements that infrastructure improvements should only be delivered when they are needed and the government's more recent directive to minimise the use of pre-commencement conditions to accelerate starts on site.

The commitment to allow communities to decide on their own design standards also seems as though it will be fraught with difficulty – not least because design is subjective and most people have differing views on it. However, in its current form this policy is light on detail so it is hard for people to disagree with - a common theme of the housing policies in this manifesto.

How this could impact on you

Whether or not the Conservatives win the election, and however successful these polices are in boosting the supply of housing, the manifesto devotes a considerable amount of space to the housing crisis. That shows the importance politicians are placing on the need to increase rates of development.

The focus on the housing crisis is building on efforts to increase supply dating back a number of years. Those efforts mean that some sites which might not have had development potential in the past could now be suitable for new homes.

The Strategic Land Group specialises in delivering homes on sites of all types – greenfield, brownfield and even Green Belt.

We work with land owners to deliver planning permission on their behalf at our cost and risk. Our return is a share of the value of the site once it is sold. If we don’t succeed, it doesn’t cost you anything.

If you have a site that you think might benefit from our approach, get in touch with us today for a free, no obligation assessment.

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