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By Graham Norwood

Editor, LLT and LAT

Graham Awards


Industry Views - Labour Agrees New Housing Policies

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

No, I’m not talking about the new ‘Freedom To Buy’ initiative that was announced on Friday morning, aiming at helping first time buyers to get on the property ladder. I’m talking about a much more comprehensive set of Labour policies.

Que? 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.


And those commitments were agreed yesterday (Friday June 7) 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The manifesto that it agreed will not be published until next Thursday, June 13, and, of course, housing will be only a minor part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 4. 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?

And 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…

  • Richard Rawlings

    Nice article Graham!


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