Missed our briefing on Labour’s housing policy? Read it here.

Although housing market failure continued to grab political headlines during the week of Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, the response from senior politicians has been, at best, limited and lacking in imagination. 

The Conference played host to over two dozen housing themed fringe events, as well as receiving mentions in speeches from the Chancellor, Communities Secretary and  Prime Minister. However after nearly a decade at the top of the political agenda, the  debate sounds to many in the industry like the proverbial stuck record. 

In his Sunday afternoon keynote speech, the Secretary of State for Communities, Sajid Javid, made just four substantive housing policy announcements: 

  • Mandatory membership for every landlord of an ombudsman scheme, either directly, or through a letting agent. Giving all tenants access to quick and easy dispute resolution over issues like repairs and maintenance.
  • All letting agents to be regulated in order to practice. Letting agents would be required to satisfy minimum training requirements and comply with an industry code of conduct. 
  • New incentives for landlords who offer longer term tenancies. The Autumn Budget will contain a new set of incentives for landlords who offer tenancies of at least 12 months. 
  • Consultation with the judiciary on the case for a new housing court to streamline the current system and meet the aim of saving time and money in dealing with disputes. 

Speaking at a subsequent Conservative Home fringe event on housing, Mr Javid conceded that Government had failed to deliver the conditions for housing growth and acknowledged that without bold steps to deliver a major step change in building, the issue would count heavily against the Conservatives at the next election.

He also attacked the culture of Nimbyism which had stalled planning delivery  across the UK although provided no immediate solutions to the problem, which many believe was fomented by the 2007 Conservative Manifesto which promised to abolish local plans and the need for housing targets.  

Addressing the issue of viability he agreed that lack of transparency undermined  confidence in the system, although he defended the need for a flexible and  commercial approach. He also trailed plans for a forthcoming review of the process for land-use-value-capture to help fund infrastructure delivery – another vexed  problem which has been under active political debate for a number of decades  without resolution by any party. 

In his own speech to conference on Monday, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip  Hammond, announced a further £10bn funding to the existing Help to Buy scheme, stating it would help an estimated 130,000 homebuyers in coming years. 

The plans came under almost immediate attack from senior Conservative party figures including former Cabinet Minister and London Mayoral Candidate, Steven Norris, who called the proposals “economically illiterate”. Others criticised the plans for inflating  prices rather than deliver new homes. 

In a widely trailed announcement, on the final day of speeches, the Prime Minister just about managed to choke out an additional £2bn to  be added to the affordable housing budget and that councils would be encouraged to bid for funding to build new council and social housing, adding detail to a promise which first appeared in this year’s  Conservative Election Manifesto. What little shine that announcement may have had was soon tarnished by a Conservative Research official who confirmed at a post-speech press briefing that the money would deliver, at best, 5,000 new homes per year. 

Overall, the package of housing announcements has been received by many in the industry as lacklustre and lacking the aspiration and clout of Labour’s promise to build 1 million homes. In 1951, Prime Minister Winston Churchill challenged Harold McMillan to build 300,000 homes a year – a target the party leadership had been forced to adopt following a popular revolt by the membership and many MPs during the 1950  Conservative party conference. McMillan famously rose to the challenge, keeping the party in office for another 13 years. A feat which the current administration looks  somewhat unlikely to match. 

With the pressures of Brexit and a loudly ticking electoral clock it is difficult to see how these limited interventions can make substantive change in an industry which is  notoriously slow to respond to interventions.

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