Time to Labour the point on UK housing

William Lloyd-Hayward, chief operating officer at The Brightstar Group, explores Labour's housing policy in the run up to the General Election result and why he believes the party "mean business" on building 1.5m new homes.

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William Lloyd-Hayward | The Brightstar Group
2nd July 2024
William Lloyd-Hayward
"Without wishing to appear political here, rather just pragmatic, perhaps it is time to consider a new broom so to speak."

In jostling for your vote the various political parties have sought to appeal to you on a variety of topics, but in particular the issues of immigration, the NHS, the cost of living, the economy and on taxation.

But one subject that has thankfully not been ignored is that of housing. This is just as well given that Britain is in a state of crisis where our sector is concerned. In fact in a recent YouGov poll more than one third of 18 to 24 year olds and more than a quarter of 25 to 49 year olds cited it as one of their three most pressing concerns.

Conventional wisdom is that the country requires 300,000 new homes built each year to provide for increasing demand due to population growth through immigration, the growth in single occupancy and the fact that we are living longer.

Yet successive governments have underperformed on delivering sufficient homes with an average of just 188,000 created per annum over the last twenty years. In other words we are some 2.2m homes short over that period.

The Conservative government repeatedly pledged to build more and even introduced a formal target to hit that 300,000 number, but failed to ever hit it. In its most recent promises to do better during the General Election campaign we heard from the Prime Minister that he would, if re-elected, come through on house building at last with a further pledge to provide 1.6m homes over the following five years.

Without wishing to appear political here, rather just pragmatic, perhaps it is time to consider a new broom so to speak.

The election campaign saw the Labour Party being somewhat punchy on this issue. Angela Rayner was the first politician out the blocks with a statement on housing intent. Not only did the Labour Deputy Leader promise 1.5m new homes over the next parliament but she explained how this would be achieved.

● Create a number of New Towns that would invigorate building at scale and ensure much needed accompanying infrastructure in the form of schools, GP surgeries and transport links. This is a far wiser approach than just piecemeal building here and there.
● Re-think the green belt. This well-intentioned protectionism hasn’t seen an editor’s red pen since the 1950s, yet some of it is not green at all. Instead, planning officers designate development of ugly industrial estates, petrol stations and scrap yards within it as an automatic ‘computer says no’ regardless of merit. Rayner wants to reclassify the bad bits as ‘grey’ and encourage appropriate development and that seems eminently sensible to me.
● Mandatory house building targets reintroduced across local authorities (these were removed by the Conservatives).
● 40% affordable housing. Of Labour’s plans to build more homes, they pledge that 40% of those constructed will be affordable. In other words, better priced for sale and for rent plus a substantial social housing element. As Angela Rayner, the shadow communities secretary, has put it: “Developers have been let off the hook and for too long allowed to wriggle out of their responsibilities to provide new social and affordable homes. Labour will robustly hold them to account”.
● 300 additional planning officers to help resource a largely broken planning system, funded by taxing foreign buyers.
● A Freedom to Buy Scheme to help people secure a mortgage with ‘funded deposits’.
● First dibs for local people on new developments, ending the farce of entire developments sold off to international investors before local people get a look in.
● Reform of compulsory purchase rules to get homes built.

My sense is that Labour mean business and have set out not just a headline on an aspirational number of new homes that they will deliver upon but a mechanism to achieve their 1.5m ambition.

After years of apathy, crisis and neglect I wouldn’t bet against Starmer and, in particular, the grit of Angela Rayner achieving exactly that. I’m not sure that the country has anything further to lose but to trust them?

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