The Liberal Democrats have published their manifesto for the upcoming General Election.
This post explains what it says about housing and development, and the 4 key pledges that are intended to tackle the housing crisis.
You can read about the Conservative Party’s manifesto in this post, while we covered the Labour Party manifesto here.
The overall objective
“Building more and better homes” is the central aspiration of the manifesto. That’s because the Liberal Democrats believe that “the housing crisis in Britain has become an emergency.”
Their proposed cure for that is simply put: “unless we build enough to meet demand, year after year, we will find that housing costs rise further out of reach.”
Here are the four main policy themes they intend to employ in delivering that objective.
1. Build 300,000 homes per year
The main aim is to be building 300,000 homes per year by 2022, with the caveat that they must be “sustainably planned” so that “excessive pressure is not placed on existing infrastructure.”
If the market is unable to deliver that number of new homes, the manifesto commits the party to direct commissioning by government to make up the shortfall.
2. A new generation of garden cities
To help increase house-building rates, the Liberal Democrats propose to deliver at least 10 new garden cities.
A new government-backed British Housing and Infrastructure Development Bank will be established to ensure the funding is in place to actually deliver them. The Bank’s remit will include providing long-term capital for major new settlements and helping attract finance for major house-building projects.
3. Empower local authorities
Local Authorities will be given a variety of new powers to help them ensure new homes are actually being built. This includes a pledge to penalise “excessive land-banking” if developers with planning permission have failed to build after three years. Councils will also be given stronger powers to prevent developers from “reneging” on their Section 106 obligations.
To encourage councils and housing associations to build more homes, their current borrowing caps will be increased. Councils will also be able to enforce house-building on unwanted public sector land.
4. Reform the planning system
To make sure enough new homes are being planned for, local plans will need to take into account at least 15 years of future housing need. That length of plan is also intended to increase the focus on long-term development and community needs.
The current exemptions from affordable housing requirements for smaller housing schemes will be scrapped.
A “community right of appeal” will be introduced for cases where planning decisions go against the adopted local plan.
Some other points
Elsewhere in the manifesto are a number of other policies that will impact housing supply. These include:
- Restoring the zero-carbon standard for new homes, increasing the standard steadily and extending it to non-domestic buildings by 2022.
- Allowing councils to end the Right to Buy if they choose
- Working with local authorities to deliver a significant increase in social and affordable housing in rural areas.
- Preventing developers from advertising homes abroad before they have been advertised in the UK.
- Allowing councils to levy up to 200% council tax on second homes and “buy to leave empty” investments from overseas.
- Promoting longer tenancies of three years and more, with controls on rent increases.
- Give tenants a right of first refusal when landlords choose to sell.
What impact will these proposals have?
That target to build 300,000 homes a year is hugely ambitious, but reflects the level of ambition needed if the housing crisis is to be addressed. The Liberal Democrats are the only one of the main parties to proposed a house building target that falls in the range of the various estimates of the countries actual housing need. The target does, though, represent almost double the level of house building that is currently taking place, and is therefore likely to require major intervention if it is to be achieved.
Encouraging councils to build homes themselves as well as the focus on delivering new garden cities will play a crucial part in that. For once, a political aspiration to deliver garden cities is supported by some sort of plan to deliver it. The majority of garden city proposals fail because they are so costly and take so long to come forward; the Housing and Infrastructure Development Bank can help with that.
But those changes won’t increase build rates by 2022 by themselves. More sites will still need to be allocated for development. It is perhaps notable, therefore, that the manifesto doesn’t commit to protecting the Green Belt.
Some of the proposed policies, though, could suppress levels of development. The community right of appeal, for example, runs the risk of becoming a tool for NIMBYs to delay developments significantly. Being “tougher” with developers over both planning obligations and land banking (not that such a thing exists) will increase the cost and risks of development, which could well combine to reduce the rate of development.
How this could impact on you
Whether or not the Liberal Democrats are in government after the election, the manifesto underlines their real commitment to solving the housing crisis.
The levels of house building proposed will need a dramatic increase in the number of sites with planning permission, and that are available for development.
We work with land owners to deliver planning permission on their behalf at our cost and risk. Our return is a share of the value of the site once it is sold. If we don’t succeed, it doesn’t cost you anything.
If you have a site that you think might benefit from our approach, get in touch with us today for a free, no obligation assessment.