Fight for power begins in earnest

Friday 17 April 2015

It’s been a key week in the fight for who will hold or indeed share power for the next five years, with all of the major political parties releasing their manifestos and setting out their policies for housing reform.

Here is our pit stop tour of some of the pledges and promises that have come from three of the major parties.

The Conservatives pledge to:
• Double the number of first-time buyers during the next term
• Introduce the Right to Buy for tenants of Housing Associations in addition to already in place for local authority homes. 
• Extend Help to Buy to cover another 120,000 homes
• Build 200,000 new starter homes for first-time buyers under 40, sold at 20 per cent below market value
• Extend the Help to Buy equity loan scheme to 2020
• Help to Buy ISA – up to £3,000 available from the Government
• At least double the number of custom-built and self-built homes by 2020 and introduce Right to Build which will require councils to allocate land to local people to build or commission their own home. 
• Support locally-led garden cities where it’s clear that communities want them, giving the examples of Ebbsfleet and Bicester.
• Use Brownfield sites as much as possible for new development, and will ensure that 90 per cent of suitable brownfield sites have planning permission for housing by 2020.
• Create a new London Land Commission, with a mandate to release all surplus brownfield land owned by the public sector. They will fund Housing Zones to transform these sites into new housing, creating 95,000 new homes.

Read the full Conservative Party manifesto

Paring back of austerity measures
With the extension of the right of the Right to Buy, Help to Buy, new ISAs and a whole host of other non-housing related ‘giveaways’ such as the raising of personal tax allowances, could the Conservatives be alienating some of their staunch supporters. Supporters who previously saw them as being the party of financial prudence may now see them as big spenders without spelling out where they will be taking the money from?

Labour pledge to:
• Build at least 200,000 homes a year by 2020 – almost double the current level – by implementing the recommendations of the Lyons Review.
• Help young people and families get on the housing ladder, by giving local authorities the power to give first call to first time buyers on new homes in areas of housing growth.
• Unlock a Future Homes Fund by requiring that the billions of pounds saved in Help to Buy ISAs be invested in increasing housing supply.
• They want a housing market that rewards the building of high quality homes rather than land banking and speculation. They will introduce greater transparency in the land market and give local authorities new ‘use it or lose it’ powers to encourage developers to build.
• Increase competition in the housebuilding industry by backing small builders, including through their Help to Build scheme, and by getting the public sector building again. More affordable homes will be built by prioritising capital investment for housing and by reforming the council house financing system.
• Give local authorities powers to reduce the number of empty homes, including higher council tax on long term empty properties. And to boost the housing we need, we will start to build a new generation of garden cities.
• Legislate to make three-year tenancies the norm, with a ceiling on excessive rent rises. A ban on unfair letting agent fees will save renters over £600. We will drive standards up by creating a national register of private landlords.
• Commitment to reversing this trend by tackling the causes of homelessness and rough sleeping.”

Read the full Labour Party manifesto

Wallets to remain firmly closed!
Being the first to launch their manifesto, reading through the somewhat brief housing section of their manifesto, you be forgiven for thinking that some of the pledges look awfully familiar making it a difficult decision for voters come May, if housing is an important issue for them. With the polls indicating a close run race, it’s ironic that as the conservatives seem to be paring back austerity measures, at the launch in Manchester, Ed Miliband was pitching Labour as the party of choice as far as the nation’s finances are concerned, moving into Conservative ground by unveiling what he called a ‘budget responsibility lock’ which he said will guarantee every policy announced by his party will be fully funded and involve no extra borrowing. A prominent line in the manifesto states: “We will balance the books by cutting the deficit every year, with a surplus on the current budget and with national debt falling as soon as possible in the next Parliament.” Labour say that this will be achieved by common sense spending reductions.

Liberal Democrats pledge to:
• Build 300,000 homes a year, including 10 new Garden Cities in area where homes are needed most and where there is local support.
• Encourage rural Local Authorities to follow the Garden City principles on a smaller scale
• Introduce new Rent to Own homes where your monthly payments steadily buy you a stake in your property.
• Introduce Help to Rent tenancy deposit loans to help young people get into their first place
• Cut Council Tax by £100 for 10 years if you insulate your home, and ban landlords from letting out homes tenants cannot reasonably afford to heat.
• Create up to five major new settlements along a Garden Cities Railway between Oxford and Cambridge.
• Develop unwanted public sector sites through the Homes and Communities Agency, with Local Authorities given new powers to ensure development happens on any unused site in which the public sector has an interest
• Review Compulsory Purchase legislation to facilitate site assembly, including for Garden Cities. They will also pilot techniques for capturing the increase in land values from the granting of planning permission, helping to deliver our Garden Cities.
• Introduce a government commissioning programme to boost house building towards their 300,000 target; where the market alone fails to deliver sufficient numbers, government agencies will directly commission homes for sale and rent to fill the gap. They are already piloting this direct approach in Cambridgeshire.
• Introduce a government-backed Housing Investment Bank to provide long-term capital for major new settlements and help attract finance for major house building projects.

Introduce several changes to planning rules including:
• Requiring Local Authorities to think for long term – requiring them to make a 15 year plan of housing needs, and creating a Community Right of Appeal in cases where planning decisions go against the approved local plan. They will not allow developers’ appeals against planning decisions that are in line with the local plan.
• Enable Local Authorities to attach planning conditions to new developments to ensure homes are occupied, tackling the growth of ‘buy to leave empty’ investments.
• Enabling Local Authorities to levy up to 200% Council Tax on second homes

Read the full Liberal Democrats Party manifesto

All heart AND brain?
Promising to add a heart to a Conservative government and a brain to a Labour one, the Lib Dems were the last of the big three to launch their manifesto, perhaps making up for it by including the most comprehensive section on housing out of the three with a whopping nine pages dedicated to housing. But do they list too many housing priorities to be able to realistically honour their promises? And will they even stay on with a minority share in the new government?

Mark Hayward, Managing Director of NAEA said:

"It is very apparent that property plays as a fundamental lynch pin in the main parties manifestos, from the promises of significant growth in new build to the controversial proposals on Right to Buy. Therefore, we have the indicated direction of travel, but what is lacking is the ‘how’.

"We are working closely with our public affairs advisers to interpret from the broad brush strokes of rhetoric contained within the manifestos and to be in a position to engage with a new government from the very outset.”