Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats put forward their plan for tackling the UK housing crisis this week. The overall vision of all three of the main parties is broadly similar – to increase the provision of high-quality homes for sale and rent at affordable prices. However, unlike at previous election cycles, the three main parties are proposing drastically different methods for achieving this vision.
There is broad consensus among the three main parties on several key policy issues. All agree that upwards of 1.5 million new houses need to be built by 2022 and all have expressed a commitment to ensuring that new houses are of high quality, brownfield sites are prioritised, the Green Belt is preserved, and more homes are built to cater for the needs of older people and those with disabilities.
To achieve their house building targets, the Conservatives are sticking to the principles enshrined in the 2017 Housing White Paper. They will free up more land for development, give councils powers to intervene where developers do not act on planning permissions and diversify the house-building industry.
The Conservatives make no firm commitment when it comes to building affordable housing, promising only to give housing associations flexibility to increase their housing stock and work with some local authorities – who demonstrate a suitably ambitious and pro-development attitude – to help them build new social housing.
Labour’s plan is more interventionist. A Labour government would establish a new Department for Housing and give local councils new powers to build more social housing aided by a National Transformation Fund. They would suspend the right-to-buy, establish ‘new towns’ to prevent urban sprawl and aim to build 100,000 genuinely affordable council or housing association homes a year during the next parliament. This is a long way from the party’s 2015 offering, which, like current conservative policy, prioritised adjusting the housing market at arms length by promoting competition and applying a punitive tax on empty homes.
Like Labour, the Liberal Democrats are proposing direct government investment in house building to fill the gaps left by the market. They would build half a million affordable homes a year and establish a British Housing and Infrastructure Development Bank to provide capital for new settlements, including ten garden cities.
Consensus over housing numbers, sustainability and build-quality aside, the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos offer radically different solutions to the UK housing crisis. Crucially, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have rejected the previous notion that tweaking the housing market from above is sufficient to ‘fix it’, for a wholly interventionist stance involving central government and local authority investment. With housing a top priority for many voters, this principled policy schism could prove decisive on June 8th.