Manifestos for housing growth?

Conservatives

In ‘Forward, Together’, Theresa May clearly hopes she has the manifesto with something for everyone. In looking at planning and development, she seems to think that her predecessor had it broadly right, and there are no fundamental changes in direction proposed – the Housing White Paper earlier this year having implicitly ditched the Cameroon obsession with home ownership at any cost. There are warm sentiments about housing associations and social housing. New is the idea of fixed term social housing to be sold on the open market after 10-15 years, and support for multigenerational homes. While the white paper wanted to nudge developers to implement permissions, the manifesto talks of council powers to intervene. The idea of high-density housing is again endorsed.

Developers may look with more concern at a friendly-worded remark about working with them “to capture the increase in land value” from development. The government thinks that public sector landowners and local communities should “benefit from the increase in land value from urban regeneration and development”. Little is said about giving councils more control over development, although it seems major applications for fracking for shale gas are to be removed to the national planning regime. Other sections of the manifesto commit to combine the Land Registry, Ordnance Survey and others to create open land data and help “digitise the planning process”; the Conservatives also commit to publishing “far more information” about planning applications online.

Labour

Its title may recycle a Blairite mantra, but Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour manifesto “For the many not the few” could never be confused with the new Labour era. The party’s ‘National Transformation Fund’ which will borrow £250bn over ten years for capital spending, including new housing. At least 100,000 new social and affordable homes per year are promised, and a million homes in total, overseen by a new government department. Pledges to prioritise brownfield and protect the green belt are followed by mention of a new generation of New Towns.

Labour complains that developers profit takes precedence over community priorities in planning decisions, though the remedy proposed seems to be more money for council planning departments. They suggest planning rules will be strict on minimum space standards and on energy efficiency, and that plans will have to provide for homes for the elderly. There is a firm pledge for the ‘agent of change’ principle affecting development near entertainment venues (London Mayor Sadiq Khan also supports it). Inserted at the last minute and not in the earlier leaked draft is support for a land value tax – an old idea with many respectable supporters.

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrat manifesto ‘Change Britain’s Future’ unusually makes a pitch for opposition, rather than government. Reminders of populist measures brought in by Liberal Democrat ministers in 2010-15 don’t overcome the impression of a party seeking once again to rouse protest votes.

Few of the details on planning and development have changed from the 2015 manifesto. The party still pledges to set a housebuilding target of 300,000 a year, including ten garden cities, and funded by a housing investment bank. They believe a community right of appeal against planning decisions can be made to work. New pledges include powers for councils to penalise “excessive land-banking”, and to enforce housebuilding on “unwanted public sector land”. One small pledge hidden in another section seeks to bring in planning rules to protect live music venues.