May 23, 2024 Newsteer Staff
5th June 2024

Election Surprises: Accelerated Timelines, Early Debates, and Bold Housing Promises

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Hot on the heels of the first debate, CPO Director Alasdair Lowe reflects on the ambitious plans both Labour and the Conservatives are outlining, especially in housing and development.

And just like that we are a third of the way through and one debate down. An earlier than expected election, when the country was expecting a quiet summer and autumn campaign season, seems to have had the effect of time strapping on a jet pack and accelerating past at a huge velocity. Such was the level of surprise that the government weren’t even ready and, as such, we are still patiently awaiting official manifestos from basically everyone.

The battling candidates have, however, already shown some of their cards regarding regeneration, development and infrastructure over the next 5 years. Even more so than normal, aside from the usual Nigel Farage sideshow and some mildly diverting photo-bombing shenanigans from the Lib Dems, the focus has been on both the policies of Labour and the Conservatives. This is probably because we are anticipating the first change of government in 14 years. The slim points victory that Sunak appeared to achieve in the debate last night will not do anything to address what will have been a very sobering YouGov poll for the Tories on Monday, predicting a landslide that would even make Blair’s ’97 majority look slender. Polls have their flaws (ahem 2016) but anything other than a Labour victory at this point would be the shock of all shocks.

So what, then, will Labour do? The headline figure is simply 1.5 million new homes over the next 5 years. That is an uptick in average annual production of circa 40% over what has been achieved recently. That is quite a lot of houses, especially in the face of the problems of the supply of land, labour (small l) and materials that have been a cork in the bottle for some time now. 

So what needs to realistically happen? Challenges need to be overcome predominantly in viability – that is to say keeping GDV up in the face of affordability issues whilst at the same time trying to overcome the spiralling build costs issue. OK – we seem to be over the worst of the build cost escalation, but like inflation, lower increases don’t do anything to soften gigantic leap they have taken, so the big costs are still a challenge.

As such, the free market is not going to be able to sort this one out for itself, at least not in the sort of time Keir Starmer needs it to in order for it to look like a Labour success – there will need to be some financial intervention from government to make it work. It is not wholly clear, at this pre-manifesto stage, what form this intervention will take though. There is the prima facie most un-Labour solution of wanting to increase home ownership to around 70% through a guaranteed mortgage scheme, which should (in theory) get the market moving – something it is starting to show signs of doing all on its own as well.

There has also been the promise of an overhauled planning system (Yay, another one!) to try and unblock the land issue with the promise of further development on ‘undesirable’ green belt land – though what constitutes this is all a little woolly at present.  

However, all of this doesn’t mean that a beleaguered Conservative party has thrown in the towel – far from it – with the potential outgoing Prime Minister showing fighting spirit at the very least in the first debate.  The flagship policy Rishi Sunak has announced is an expansion of the Levelling Up policy, with 30 more towns getting a slice of the pie to the tune of £20 million each – with the decision on where this money will be spent being delegated to local authorities. At the same time in the debate he defended the party’s track record on building and home ownership. 

On the face of it, this seems to mean that we can expect more of the same…if it ain’t broke (subject to a lot of debate!) don’t fix it.  However, with a lot of projects seemingly stuck on the architect’s drawing board something does need to change.  Ultimately the £20 million per town will sound like a lot to the layman, but what will that get you in reality?  50 homes? A light infrastructure refresh?   Whatever the motivations, it is not transformative – more conservative (small c) than the bold strokes Sunak talked about in the debate. 

The Liberal Democrats are going a different way – with a proposals for 150,000 new social and council homes a year being built (something that one would more traditionally expect to see from Labour) – however, they are also taking the bold step of proposing enforcing a ‘current use value’ on land being bought by councils, through reforming the Compensation Code.  This would be somewhat revolutionary as a concept – and whilst it has been mooted before, this is a first for a major party to include it as a policy. 


Ultimately, this is a ‘hot take’ based on some policy proposal tid bits and answers to questions. Ultimately we need to take a deep dive into manifestos to cover not only housing and development, but also infrastructure proposals.

Which we will. Promise. 

Bet you can’t wait.  

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