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By Graham Norwood

Editor, LLT and LAT

Graham Awards


Tory Housing Policies Miss Out On Poll Position

You have to wonder who is advising Rishi Sunak these days.

Months ago, Silverstone must have seemed a terrific venue to hold a manifesto launch: it was to be the backdrop to a high octane event with drama and danger in equal quantity.

But by the time the big day arrived - after the D-Day bunk-off, the National Service idea falling flat, and controversy over tax claims - the venue held danger of a different kind.


Few journalists resisted puns about wheels coming off, economies crashing and the track being the perfect place for the Prime Minister to make (another) fast getaway.

All of which took the shine off the manifesto itself which - although unspectacular - at least recognised there was something seriously wrong with our housing supply and market.

In almost any other election a headline-grabbing initiative such as the two-year Capital Gains Tax exemption for landlords selling to sitting tenants would have raised a cheer from the beneficiaries: but 2024 is not like any other election.

The NRLA and Generation Rent, normally at loggerheads, both felt it wasn’t enough to help many renters and Propertymark piled in too, although the most pithy response was from one of the early comments on the Landlord Today story, which was: “If they thought this was a good idea why did they not do it earlier?”

There was widespread cynicism about the Tories’ target of 1.6m homes within five years, partly because that looked suspiciously like a figure chosen to be above Labour’s 1.5m, but mostly because - as the RICS said in response - “over 300,000 new homes a year hasn’t been achieved since the 1960s, a period during which the public sector and small and me-dium sized house builders had a far greater role in housing delivery.”
There were some plaudits: developers in particular liked the resuscitation of Help To Buy, most industry figures agreed with planning reform (although there were scant details how this would be done), and urban development enthusiasts were keen on the idea that London shouldn’t shy away from the density of housing seen in many European capitals.  

But overall there was a tiredness to the proposals, many of which appeared rewrites from 2019.…and 2017…and earlier.

Who says irony is dead when the Conservatives can pledge, without comment, that they will launch another Renters Reform Bill? Can a “cast iron commitment” to protect the Green Belt really be wheeled out yet again, for the umpteenth election in a row?

Is a promise to enhance Right To Buy anything other than an ideological spasm to keep old Thatcherites from voting Reform? And that curling-around-the-edges promise to encourage self-builders - that was an idea promoted 17 years ago when Grant Shapps became (a rather successful) shadow housing minister.

So today’s Conservative Manifesto is a policy programme with isolated good housing ideas, but with the overall impression of tiredness.

As they would say at Silverstone, it’s the work of a team lacking a race winning strategy and without a champion driver, hoping instead that its main rival will suffer an unexpected blow out. With not so many laps remaining, that’s a pretty desperate position.


Conservative Housing Policies in Summary:

-    1.6m new homes in England in the next Parliament;
-    Fast-track planning for new homes in 20 key cities;
-    Strong design codes to improve housing appearance;
-    Greater density of housing in London and new regeneration areas in York, Leeds and Liverpool;
-    More help for SME builders through reduced S106 obligations;
-    Infrastructure Levy to be used on-site at new housing schemes;
-    Cast-iron commitment to protect Green Belt;
-    No stamp duty for first time buyers paying up to £450,000;
-    A resuscitated Help To Buy scheme and enhanced discounts for Right To Buy;
-    Mortgage Guarantee Scheme to be continued;
-    Tougher on anti-social behaviour by social housing tenants;
-    Pledge not to raise council tax, CGT on principal homes, and stamp duty;
-    Temporary Capital Gains Tax break for landlords selling to sitting tenants;
-    Leasehold ground rents capped at £250 pa, reducing to peppercorn;
-    A Renters Reform Bill scrapping Section 21 and strengthening Section 8;
-    Review quality of temporary accommodation for homeless;
-    Further help for leaseholders with historic building safety costs;
-    New powers for councils to control holiday lets;
-    More planning assistance for self-builders;
-    Greater police powers to remove illegal traveller sites.


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