Sunday, 4 June 2017

Exploring the GE2017 Manifestos: Housing

Labour:
  • Build at least 100,000 council and housing association homes a year.
  • Establish a new Department For Housing to tackle the housing crisis by "improving the number, standards and affordability of homes".
  • Re-structure the Homes and Communities Agency so they can deliver housing and give local councils "new powers to build homes" where there is high demand for houses.
  • Prioritise brownfield sites and protect the greenbelt from development.
  • Build "a new generation of New Towns" to avoid an increase in urban sprawl.
  • Building of new homes would be a priority in Labour's National Transformation Fund, which will also seek to create new jobs and apprenticeship opportunities in the construction sector.
  • Insulate more homes to reduce preventable winter deaths and help the UK meet climate change targets.
  • Consult on new minimum standards for house dimensions so that people do not end up living in "rabbit hutch" properties.
  • Consult on new minimum standards for "zero carbon" homes.
  • Keep the Land Registry in public hands.
  • Guarantee Home-To-Buy funding until 2027.
  • Give young local people "first dibs" on new homes built in their area (but how long will you have had to have lived in the area to be eligible? Would you had to have been born there?)
  • Give protections to leaseholders from "rip-off" rises in ground rent and end the use of routine leaseholds in new housing developments.
  • Ensure that 3 year minimum tenancies are "the norm" and introduce an inflation cap on rent rises.
  • Ban letting agency fees for tenants.
  • Introduce new minimum standards to ensure private rental properties are "fit for human habitation" and give tenants the power to take action if landlords are unwilling to bring their homes up to standard.
  • Reverse the decision to abolish Housing Benefit for 18-21 year olds.
  • Remove government restrictions on local councils so they can build more council homes.
  • Restore the long-term tenancy programme for council tenants.
  • Scrap the bedroom tax.
  • Suspend the Tory "Right-to-Buy" a council house scheme with councils only being allowed to resume the scheme if they have a plan in place to replace the council house with a new house of a similar type (e.g. semi-detached for semi-detached).
  • Set out a "new national plan" to tackle Homelessness, with 4,000 additional homes reserved for tenants who have a history of rough sleeping. Labour would also safeguard homeless hostels and other forms of supported/sheltered housing from housing benefit cuts. 
  • "Drive up standards in Service Accommodation, taking action where private companies fail to deliver" and have a consultation that involves Armed Forces personnel to discuss the housing options they want and "review and improve the Forces Help-to-Buy scheme. 
  • Create a "Homes Fit for Heroes programme that will insulate the homes of disabled veterans for free.

Lib Dems:
  • Build 300,000 homes a year through the creation of a "government commissioning programme"; the houses would be for sale and for rent. 
  • 500,000 affordable and highly energy efficient homes will be built by 2022.
  • 10 new Garden Cities would be built in England.
  • Set up a Housing and Infrastructure Development Bank; this would provide long-term capital to housebuilders to build major new settlements.
  • Right-to-Buy pilot would be scrapped and the High Value Asset levy would be abolished.
  • Borrowing cap on local authorities would be lifted. 
  • The borrowing capacity for Housing Associations would be expanded further. 
  • Smaller housing development schemes would be told to provide affordable homes.
  • Local Plans would take into account 15 years worth of future housing demand.
  • A Community Right of Appeal would be created in cases where planning decisions go against an approved Local Plan. 
  • Local councils would be able to place a 200% levy on Council Tax for second homes and "buy to leave" investment homes bought by absent overseas buyers. 
  • Local councils would be able to build on unwanted public land.
  • Local councils would be able to penalise any house building films that landbank excessively after they receive planning consent and haven't built on the land after 3 years.
  • People who want to own their own home but can't afford the deposit would be able to rent the place for 30 years until they own the house outright- a "Rent to Own" scheme.
  • Lettings fees would be banned for tenants.
  • Up-front deposit amounts would be capped.
  • Minimum standards in private rental housing would be increased.
  • A new "Help to Rent" scheme would be brought in for young people, with government-backed tenancy deposit loans being made available to all first-time renters under 30.
  • Housing developers would not be allowed to advertise their homes abroad before they have been advertised in the UK.
  • Tenants would be given first-refusal on buying their home from their landlord who makes a decision to sell, with a price given "at market rate" by an independent valuer.
  • Longer-tenancies would be promoted, with inflation-linked annual rent increases built into the contract.
  • Rogue Landlord protections would be improved, ensuring every landlord must have a licence and giving tenants access to the Database of Rogue Landlords and Letting Agents.
  • Increase support for homeless prevention and "appropriately fund age-appropriate emergency accommodation".
  • All local authorities must have "one provider of the Housing First model of provision for long-term, entrenched homeless people". 
  • Create a Green Buildings Act which would enshrine energy-efficiency targets (e.g. every home in England to reach an energy rating of Band C by 2035) in law.
  • 4 million homes would be made Band C energy efficient by 2022, with a priority given to those households who face fuel-poverty.
  • The Zero Carbon Standard would be restored, extending it beyond domestic buildings by 2022.
Conservatives:
  • Commitment to building 1m homes by 2020 with another 500,000 by 2022.
  • Free up more land for new homes in the right places (whatever is deemed as a right place...)
  • Encourage modern forms of construction.
  • Give councils specific powers to intervene where developers landbank (aka "do not act on their planning permission").
  • Support the building of mansion blocks, mews houses and terraced streets.
  • Protection against house building on greenbelt, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty would be maintained.
  • Government will build 160,000 homes on publicly held land.
  • Support the building of sheltered housing and helping housing associations increase their specialist housing stock.
  • Enter into "Council Housing Deals" with councils that are "ambitious" and "pro development", providing them with "significant low cost funding". The houses built would be "fixed-term social houses" which would be sold privately after 10-15 years "with an automatic Right-to-Buy for tenants" with the proceeds used to build more houses.
  • Compulsory Purchase Orders would be reformed, with councils able to better determine the market value of properties/sites.
  • Greater flexibility would be given to Housing Associations to build more housing.
  • Work with public and private sector house builders to "capture the increase in land value created to reinvest in local infrastructure".
  • Continue with the £2,5bn flood prevention programme to protect 300,000 existing homes by 2021.
  • Halve rough-sleeping by 2022 and eradicate it by 2027. 
Thoughts:

Interestingly, the Conservatives stated that their social housing plans would be paid for out of existing budgets (£1.4bn has already been set aside for existing infrastructure projects budgeted for in the 2016 Autumn Statement) but this isn't mentioned specifically in the manifesto. There's also no number given and there's been no indication of which local councils would benefit directly from the policy. The City of Lincoln Council would like to build more homes but they don't know whether they'd be able to be selected for a "Council Housing Deal".  The nod to the types of homes the Conservatives want to build won't be for everyone (not sure whether I'd particularly enjoy living in a mansion block) and whilst it's good to see that the Conservatives would encourage house builders to invest in modern types of construction techniques, we're going to need the bricklayers and engineers to be able to make that happen. 

A more general problem is that we're going to need more bricklayers and construction workers to fill the jobs created to help build the number of homes that all three parties are proposing. It's essential that apprenticeships are created to help train local people to help give them access to a stable career but in the meantime we're going to need experienced bricklayers, plumbers and construction workers. Migration Watch believes that there should be temporary visa given to bricklayers from the EU so that the skills gap can be plugged (http://www2.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2017/05/11/three-year-brickie-visa-would-plug-uk-skills-gaps-says-think-tank.aspx?); the visa would initially last a year but could be extended up to a maximum of 3 years whilst housebuilding firms train local young people up to take their place. I'm a bit sceptical of these plans as I believe such a temporary visa would not be enticing to EU workers, especially as the visa would not entitle workers to in-work benefits at all.

That being said, it's important to state that the Conservatives have pledged to implement the recommendations set out in their recent "Fixing Our Broken Housing Market" White Paper released in February 2017. Proposals contained within the paper include requiring councils to come up with plans to address housing demand in their area, reducing the landbanking time with planning permission from 3 to 2 years and giving more help to smaller housebuilding firms to compete with larger firms through access to the Accelerated Construction programme and £3bn House Building Fund (see more of the "Fixing Our Broken Housing Market" White Paper here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/590464/Fixing_our_broken_housing_market_-_print_ready_version.pdf).

Recently, there was a U-Turn on social housing from the Tories with the Housing Minister, Gavin Bardell openly admitting that houses planned to be built under the Tories would be much less affordable than previously thought because the homes would not have rents determined through the National Rent Scheme (a formula set by the Government) but rather be under the "no more than 80% of the local market rent" definition (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tories-housing-policy-u-turn-affordable-homes-general-election-2017-manifesto-a7769866.html). If the Tories can U-Turn on a reasonably progressive policy such as social rent homes, it makes you wonder whether you can trust them not to U-Turn on other progressive policies contained within their manifesto. Can you really trust them? I don't think I can. 

Labour and Lib Dems clearly have policies in their manifesto to help first-time buyers. However, PM May seems to abandon them. There's no Cameronesque promise to create cut-price starter homes for first-time buyers. There's no indication of whether the Help-to-Buy scheme will be extended beyond its cut-off date of 2021 (Labour will extend the scheme to 2027) and there won't be an extension of the scheme to housing association tenants (selling council homes to pay for it) which I think on balance is actually a good decision from PM May. 

The Lib Dems do have a few controversial housing policies in their platform; overseas investors and second-home owners won't be pleased at the thought of potentially paying a 200% levy on their council tax and the idea of a "Rent to Own" scheme sounds great but with first-time buyers under 30 being given access to a government-backed tenancy deposit scheme it may seem unfair to those over 30 who would have no other option than to go down the "Rent to Own" route (if they qualify for it in the first place). That being said, the Lib Dems do have a lot of practical policies in their platform, including ensuring that housing developers advertise their homes in the UK before they advertise them abroad and bringing in a 15 year Local Plan to help shape housing policy in the longer-term. 

Labour also has a number of interesting policies in their housing platform; the idea of having a dedicated Department of Housing seems sensible and helping Armed Forces personnel with their housing needs by driving up standards in Service Accommodation and extending the Forces Help-To-Buy scheme as well as insulating the homes of disabled veterans feels like the right thing to do. I'm a bit sceptical of Labour's promise to allow young people in the area to have "first dibs" on housing because I'm not sure of how far that would extend; would only young people born in the area benefit or would there be a minimum qualification period of 10 years or so in place so that a 26 year old who had moved to Lincoln from London at 16 would still be able to benefit? What would the cut-off age date be? 30? There's also a bit of vagueness around the "minimum standards" for private rental housing but I'm guessing that they would be wide ranging and cover aspects such as faulty wiring, leaky roofs, damp, broken sewage and old toilet facilities and ensuring that kitchens are in working order. 

All three parties have pledged to protect greenbelt land from being developed (roughly 13% of UK land) and there are also proposals to help those who are homeless, with Labour wanting to provide 4,000 homes for tenants who have been long-term homeless and the Conservatives have pointed to their £40m programme for early intervention to stop people from sleeping rough in the first place and doubling the size of the Rough Sleeping Fund to £20m (according to their aforementioned Housing White Paper). The Lib Dems talked about homelessness last month, arguing that £60m should be spent by local councils to provide emergency accommodation and intervene to stop people from becoming homeless in the first place (http://www.libdems.org.uk/60m-fund-homelessness).

Based on what I've read, I believe that that it's going to be difficult to solve our Housing Crisis and not one party alone has the magic bullet to solve it over the course of one parliamentary term. There are elements of housing policy that I like contained within each of the party's manifestos but the Lib Dem policy platform does seem balanced and detailed, especially when talking about making our houses more energy efficient and providing a number of different opportunities for home ownership. I also like Labour's proposals to help Armed Forces personnel and private sector tenants and I do feel there is a need to look at housing dimensions for new homes to make sure that people aren't living in properties that have no space for gardens or space for storage. Housing isn't my No 1 priority so whichever party I vote for (between Labour and Lib Dems) there will be at least some commitment to helping aspirational home owners and private sector renters and protect the greenbelt and that's good enough for me.