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Labour Agrees New Housing Policies

Labour Agrees New Housing Policies

You may not have realised, but yesterday, the new government’s housing policy was agreed.

Well if the opinion polls are right and Labour gets a majority big enough for five years at least, it will form that new government and with a large majority it will have no excuse, not to at least have tried to carry out its manifesto commitments.

These commitments were agreed on Friday June 7th at a hush-hush day-long event. Those in the know say it was at a secret location with no phones allowed inside.

Shadow Housing Secretary Angela Rayner was there, ahead of her TV appearance as one of seven party spokespeople in a BBC election debate; also at Labour’s manifesto-setting meeting was veteran Dame Margaret Beckett, a housing minister back at the tail-end of the Gordon Brown government.

Only a minor part

It was billed to have been a huge meeting of 80 or so shadow cabinet members, senior backbenchers, party apparatchiks and trades union representatives.

The manifesto that it agreed will not be published until next Thursday, June 13th, and, of course, housing will be only a minor part

But although some more headline-grabbing pledges of the last two or three years will likely be ditched (no one expects Section 21 eviction powers to be removed on day one, despite Rayner’s promise in 2023) we have plenty to go on as to what the manifesto will probably say.

Firstly property taxes. It’s clear from Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s clever challenge, thrown down just a few days ago, that Labour isn’t quite saying No to tinkering with some property taxes.

Hunt ruled out any change to Stamp Duty, Capital Gains Tax or council tax banding if the Tories won on July 4th. A response to journalists from a rather poorly-briefed John Healey (now shadow defence spokesperson, but yet another former housing minister under Brown) merely said "none of our plans require us to look at extra tax, but we of course have to see what the true state of the public finances is when we get to open the books."

So for those of us who understand English, that’s “maybe.”

Secondly, housing targets. Labour is undeniably ambitious and while its overall target of 1.5m homes in five years is roughly the same as the Tories’ general aspi-ration, Starmer’s team are much more specific.

They have plans to acquire land, re-designate the ‘grey’ and develop-able parts of the Green Belt, want to give Mayors greater powers, reform planning and offer in-centives for those who say Yes In My Back Yard when it comes to new housing.

There’s still some flabbiness in Labour’s answers about affordable housing (how will a Labour government define this? And how will councils have funds to deliver it?) but the plans are more substantial than anything produced by the Conserva-tives.

Thirdly, there’s the abolition of leasehold.

Michael Gove (who may yet be regarded as a better Housing Secretary in retro-spect than he ever seemed while in office) tried to achieve this and failed. With so much on Labour’s plate, my guess is that this is a second-term objective at best.

Ultimately self-defeating

Fourthly, and perhaps most headline-grabbing, there is rental reform. For all the party’s bluster, it didn’t differ from Michael Gove so very much in its ambitions to strengthen tenants’ rights, and it wanted to agree the ill-fated Renters Reform Bill on the nod after the election was called in order to save time when it came to pow-er. The Tories didn’t agree to a ‘quick pass’ so the whole reform package may ap-pear in another Bill later this year if Labour wins next month.

But here’s the twist. It seems clear that Rayner wants local mayors to have various powers to implement local measures and Greater Manchester’s Andy Burnham has already set off with his own version of some of the Bill’s measures. Might she free up her government’s and parliament’s time by having a Bill which simply delegates many of these measures to local elected mayors instead?

Would that include the crowd-pleasing, controversial but ultimately self-defeating rent controls?

Fifthly, new towns. Even if Labour sets off to designate some within weeks of com-ing to power, no new town will be out of the ground by the following General Elec-tion so the intent may be stronger than the delivery and remember, a week before the election, Angela Rayner was unable to give any locations where such new towns would exist.

Sixthly and finally, that Freedom To Buy policy - it will involve getting mortgage lenders on board to extend the Tory government’s existing mortgage guarantee scheme. Labour’s version pledges to get 80,000 additional first time buyers on to the property ladder by 2029.

Now if all of those objectives appear in next Thursday’s Labour manifesto they would - alone, without other areas of activity - be enough to keep a government busy.

But remember housing doesn’t even feature as one of Sir Keir Starmer’s six key ob-jectives to create growth and deliver the funds to afford more spending.

So I would manage expectations when it comes to commitments - and in fairness, Starmer seems keen to under-promise and just possibly over-deliver, rather  than do what Johnson, Truss and Sunak have done, which has been quite the reverse.

Next week we’ll know for sure. Then there’s just the little job of Labour getting itself elected on July 4…


New town sites

The Labour party has announced its plans to select new town sites by end of first year in government.

Commenting on the policy, Lawrence Turner, Director, Boyer said “the announcement by Angela Rayner sets out a bold and ambitious plan to deliver “towns of the future” to help tackle the UK’s housing crisis. As past Governments have shown, building 300,000 homes per year
is a monumental task, but it is one that is desperately needed to address the severe shortage of housing that has been a growing problem for many years. To do this, Labour proposes to set up a New Town Commission within six months of a Labour government coming into power, which will prioritise the delivery of housing and infrastructure development to support new communities. At the heart of the plan is the provision of 40% affordable housing in these New Towns, which would help to address the housing needs of all segments of society.

However, the task of creating New Towns and developing housing at such a rapid pace is not without its challenges. The political hurdles that come with development on the edge of settlements and the release of Green Belt, is something that has been very difficult for the incumbent Government to deliver. Conservative voters, who tend to live and oppose development in these areas, have been a significant roadblock to progress for the Government over the last 14 years. The decision by Labour to reclassify low-quality areas of Green Belt land for development, known as Grey Belt, is a controversial move that will likely face opposition from environmental groups and local residents.

However, it is a necessary first step to release the most sustainably located land for much-needed housing. Tough decisions like this will be crucial if Labour is to meet its ambitious housing targets. 

The reintroduction of housing targets in England and reforms to the planning system are welcomed and are an important component of any plan to address the housing crisis. Without mandatory housing targets and a streamlined planning process, it will be impossible to deliver 300,000 homes per year.

It is also vital that Labour works with the private sector to fund the development of these new towns. While the Government can provide support and incentives for developers to build affordable housing, ultimately it will be private investment that drives the growth of new communities. By creating a positive environment for developers and ensuring that land values reflect the need to build affordable housing, New Towns can make significant progress in addressing the housing crisis.”

Antony Duthie, Regional Director of planning consultancy Lanpro said "when Sir Keir Starmer set out his six priorities last week, to the surprise of many he didn’t include housing as a priority and so it is good to see housing back on the agenda. That said, with the substantial downturn in housing delivery and planning applications during this government, it is clearly imperative that the planning system is de-politicised. Afte all, a home is a basic human need and should be top of the agenda for the next Government no matter what its political colour."

Whether Labour’s new towns policy can genuinely address the escalating housing crisis – or whether it fails, as the ‘eco towns’ and so many other similar proposals did before – will of course rest in the detail.

The announcement boldly proposes that a Commission would be set up within just six months and a list of sites decided within a year. Since this would this require a new Act of Parliament as it did in the post-war period, it may be committing to too much too soon.

Furthermore, there’s the question of willing landowners and contractual negotiations with developers, presumably involving compulsory purchase, it’s not a quick fix by any stretch of the imagination.
If you then throw into the mix the thorny subject of Green Belt protection – the function of which is inherently misunderstood and leads to very emotive objections; also viability considerations, the new requirement for biodiversity net gain and the complexities of infrastructure delivery, the delivery of new towns will be complex and protracted.

One advantage that this policy might bring is concerning the  infinitesimal issue of NIMBYism – in many cases, at least new towns are in the back yard of very few people. But while new towns are part of the solution, should we not be focusing first on what’s readily achievable – such as the reintroduction of housing targets and indeed the notion of ‘grey belt’ as already floated by Labour?


Labour to launch Help to Buy-style ‘Freedom to Buy’ scheme

The Labour Party plans to bring forward a permanent version of the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme – dubbed Freedom to Buy.

The mortgage guarantee scheme is currently set to expire in June 2025, while it applies to homes worth up to £600,000.

It works by having the state act as a guarantor for prospective homeowners, giving lenders certainty that they will receive monthly mortgage repayments, thereby facilitating the availability of mortgages with a 5% deposit.

Labour said Freedom to Buy would help more than 80,000 buyers get on the housing ladder in the next five years.

Speaking on the first televised general election debate with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Labour leader Keir Starmer said “after 14 years of Conservative government, the dream of homeownership is out of reach for too many hard-working people. Despite doing everything right, they can’t move on and up. A generation face becoming renters for life. My parents’ home gave them security and was a foundation for our family. As prime minister, I will turn the dream of owning a home into a reality. Our changed Labour Party will be on the side of the builders not the blockers, to get Britain building again. My Labour government will help first-time buyers onto the ladder with a new Freedom to Buy scheme for those without a large deposit, and by giving them first dibs on new developments.

Labour backs hard work and ambition, and will clear the way for the opportunity to own a home. It’s time to stop the chaos, turn the page and rebuild Britain.”