The Liberal Democrat manifesto was the first one of the main parties to be published. It proposes, with investment from a £130bn capital infrastructure budget, to help finance a large increase in the building of social homes - 300,000 houses per year by 2024, including 100,000 new social homes for social rent each year.
It also includes a promise to reform building standards to ensure that all the new homes built from 2022 have full connectivity to ultra-fast broadband and are designed to enable the sue of smart technologies.
A reform of planning rules is promised to ensure developers are required to provide essential local infrastructure from affordable homes to schools, surgeries and roads alongside new homes.
A "top priority for the next parliament" would be to insulate all Britain's homes by 2030, and the manifesto contains a statement that all new homes would be fitted with solar panels. In government the proposals would be implemented over a 10 year programme to reduce energy consumption from all the UK’s buildings. Under the heading energy efficiency the manifesto proposes the following:
- £6bn a year on home insulation and zero-carbon heating by the 5th year of the parliament
- Provide free retrofits for low-income homes
- Pilot a new subsidised Energy-Saving Homes scheme
- Graduate Stamp Duty Land Tax by the energy rating of the property
- Reduce VAT on home insulation
- Empower councils to develop community energy-saving projects
- All new homes and non-domestic buildings to be built to a zero-carbon standard (where as much energy is generated on-site, through renewable sources, as is used), by 2021, rising to a more ambitious ('Passivhaus') standard by 2025
- Increase minimum energy efficiency standards for privately rented properties and remove the cost cap on improvements
- Adopt a Zero-Carbon Heat Strategy
- Reform the Renewable Heat Incentive, requiring the phased installation of heat pumps in homes and businesses off the gas grid
- Pilot projects to determine the best future mix of zero-carbon heating solutions.
The Liberal Democrats would remove the permitted development exemption for converting offices in to residential property. In an effort to reduce the number of properties owned as second homes it would also allow local authorities to increase council tax by up to 500% on second homes with a stamp duty surcharge on overseas residents purchasing such properties.
The Liberal Democrats would also devolve full control of Right to Buy to local councils.
- New Rent to Own model. Provide government-backed tenancy deposit loans for all first-time renters under 30; rent payments give tenants an increasing stake in the property, owning it outright after 30 years.
- Promote longer tenancies of three years or more with an inflation-linked annual rent increase built in, to give tenants security and limit rent hikes.
- Mandatory licensing of landlords.
- Set clearer standards for homes that are socially rented
- Require complaints to be dealt with in a timely manner
- Proactively enforce the regulations that are intended to protect social renters
- Fully recognise tenant panels so that renters have a voice in landlord governance.
The manifesto also contains a proposal to improve the quality of housing for service personnel by bringing the Ministry of Defence into line with other landlords, giving tenants the same legal rights to repair and maintenance as private tenants.
To address the homelessness challenge the Liberal Democrats would "urgently publish a cross-Whitehall plan to end all forms of homelessness", repeal the Vagrancy Act to decriminalise rough sleeping, as well as legislating for longer term tenancies.
Labour party manifesto pledges
The manifesto promises that Labour in government would create a new Department for Housing, effectively taking it out of the current Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government. The new department would oversee Labour's proposed programme of council house building. It also states that it would "make Homes England a more accountable national housing agency and put councils in the driving seat."
The mechanism that Labour promise to implement their policy proposals it a "new English Sovereign Land Trust". This, and that it would be given powers to buy land more cheaply for low-cost housing is contained within the manifesto, but for the detail one needs to look elsewhere.
Over a year ago the Labour’s Green Paper, Housing for the Many (April 2018) stated that a Labour Government would end the 'fire sale' of public land with no obligation to secure new genuinely affordable homes and would ensure that new housing developments on public land include an appropriate amount of affordable housing. The green paper also stated that a labour government would establish a sovereign land trust and "(…) work with local authorities to enable more proactive buying of land at a price closer to existing use value." and that as part of this Labour would consider "changes to the rules governing the compensation paid to landowners." This detail has not made it into the manifesto, but would presumably be developed as part of the policy implementation by a labour government.
A Labour government would remove what the green paper calls the "viability loophole" which has been used by developers to negotiate the affordable housing obligations alongside considering a range of wider reforms, including standard guidance on the section 106 process and appointing a team of independent viability experts to back up councils who are in negotiations with developers over affordable housing. This detail on how the manifesto pledges may be implemented by a labour administration again have not made it into the manifesto itself but are a good indication of what the implementation proposals might be and which would have to be consulted on by a new labour administration.
The manifesto promises that a Labour government would also end the conversion of offices to residential through permitted development and that "developers will face new 'use it or lose it' taxes on stalled housing developments". The manifesto does not go in to detail on the severity of the tax or what would constitute a stalled housing development.
Protecting the green belt, Labour would make brownfield sites the priority for development and it would review the planning guidance for developments in flood risk areas.
Council and social homes – the numbers
A promise of a publicly funded new social housebuilding programme of more than 1m homes over 10 years, "with council housing at its heart" is contained in the manifesto. This promises that by the end of the parliament Labour would be building at an annual rate of at least 150,000 council and social homes, with 100,000 of these built by councils for social rent by the end of the parliament. Labour would establish a new duty on councils to plan and build these homes in their area, and fund them to do so, with backing from national government.
A Labour government would replace the current definition of 'affordable' and replace it with a definition of affordable housing linked to local incomes. The manifesto promises that these homes would be "more affordable than market housing" and built to higher standards; they would be Labour's "new discount homes".
The shadow Housing Secretary, John Healey, has indicated that developers would meet the costs of building at least 50,000 of Labour's promised new discount homes for first time buyers who are employed as "key workers" and that the discount could be up to 50% discount from the market value. More background on this proposal was reported in the Press. For more detail on this proposals, again one needs to look elsewhere. The proposal may be found in the Labour Party's green paper on Housing for the Many which was issued back in April 2018. This proposed "FirstBuy homes" as a new type of home to buy, discounted so the mortgage payments are no more than a third of average local household incomes. The discount will be locked into the home so that future generations of first-time buyers benefit too. These homes will be aimed at working families on ordinary incomes, key workers and younger people.
The manifesto also includes the following proposals:
- End the 'Right to Buy'
- End conversion of 'social rented homes' to 'affordable rent'
- Review of the case for reducing the amount of council's current housing debt
- Powers and funding for councils to buy back homes from private landlords
- Enhanced tenants voice in the management of their homes
- Ensure that estate regeneration may only proceed with resident's consent, and that all residents are offered a new property on the same site and terms
- Reform 'Help to Buy' to focus it on first-time buyers on ordinary incomes
- A levy on overseas companies buying housing, while giving local people ' first dibs' on new homes built in their area
- Give councils new powers to tax properties empty for over one year
- End the sale of new leasehold properties, abolish unfair fees and conditions
- A right for leaseholders to buy their freehold at a price they can afford.
Like the Labour party the Green party would also cancel the Right to Buy programme with the Green party proposing to instead allow councils to set discounts locally and to retain 100% of receipts to reinvest in new and existing homes. It is interesting that the Labour party have not proposed to cancel the Help to Buy programme, unlike the Green party which do propose to cancel this conservative policy, with funds redirected to a council home creation programme, one assumes because the green party take the view that this artificially inflated house prices.
- Protect private renters through rent controls, open-ended tenancies, and new, binding minimum standards.
- Cap rents with inflation and give cities powers to cap rents further.
- New renters' unions for every part of the country.
- Nationwide licensing on minimum standards together with tougher sanctions.
- New powers for councils to regulate short-term lets eg Airbnb and other similar companies.
- Remove rules which require landlords to check tenant's immigration status.
The manifesto states that Labour would "end rough sleeping within 5 years" and like the Liberal Democrats, labour would decriminalise rough sleeping by repealing the Vagrancy Act. Labour would also give renters stronger rights. Additional proposals include:
- A national plan to end homelessness, driven by a prime minister-led taskforce
- Expand and upgrade hostels
- 8,000 additional homes for people with a history of rough sleeping
- Raise the Local Housing Allowance in line with the 30th percentile of local rents
- Earmark an additional £1bn billion a year for councils' homelessness services
- A new national levy on second homes used as holiday homes with receipts put towards tackling homelessness
- Amend antisocial behaviour legislation to stop the law being used against people because they are homeless.
Funding the promises
The manifesto does not allocate a figure to the proposed 'funding', but the Labour party website carries a press release dated 20 November 2019, (the day before their manifesto was released), which states that the "new plans will be paid for with funding from Labour’s Social Transformation Fund. Half of Labour’s Social Transformation Fund – around £75bn over five years – will be allocated to housing." This funding pledge, interestingly, is omitted from the manifesto itself. However, a statement on funding that is included, is that Labour would "want to see £10bn form the new National Transformation Fund invested in the building of 120,000 council and social homes in Scotland over the next ten years".
Interestingly, the Financial Times reported on 26 November 2019 on a letter signed by 136 economists publicly offering broad support for the party's proposals for higher public spending investment.
Conservative party manifesto pledges
The Conservative manifesto sets, not a commitment, but a "target of 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s". The manifesto states that this would see a conservative administration "build at least a million more homes, of all tenures, over the next Parliament – in the areas that really need them." A million divided by five is 200,000 (per annum). The latest MHCLG stats show annual housing supply in England amounted to 241,130 net additional homes in 2018-19. Both these figures are below the proposed "target", which is also not a firm commitment. These proposals sound more like maintaining the status quo, rather than anything new to tackle the housing crisis.
The manifesto states that a conservative administration would encourage a new market in "long-term fixed-rate mortgages which slash the cost of deposits" for first time buyers (which sounds very much like a rebrand of the Starter Homes initiative).
The manifesto maintains the commitment to both policies of Right to Buy and Help to Buy. As well as maintaining its Right to Buy policy the conservatives would "evaluate new pilot areas" so this promises a continuing transfer of assets to the private sector under a conservative administration.
In government the Conservatives would also reform the planning rules to ensure that there is more infrastructure in place before new homes become occupied, and they will invest £10bn into a new Single Housing Infrastructure Fund to help deliver additional infrastructure required for new developments. They also plan to end the sale of new leasehold properties and restrict ground rents to a peppercorn.
The manifesto also contains a pledge to encourage the creation of "environmentally friendly homes"; "new kinds of homes that have low energy bills and which support our environmental targets" and for an expectation for "all new streets to be tree lined".
A pledge to "protect and enhance the Green Belt" and to continue to prioritise brownfield development is also contained within the manifesto.
Under a conservative government it would "ask every community to decide its own design standards for new development", support modern methods of construction and encourage innovative design and technology including to make housing suitable for an aging population and the disabled.
Final thoughts on energy efficiency
As one might expect the Greens would, to 'Passivhaus' standard create 100,000 new homes for social rent and impose a new standard for all new buildings built by private developers to be built to 'Passivhaus' standards and increase the current MEES regulations from E to A by 2030. The Greens are also proposing to improve the energy efficiency of 1m properties a year starting with the homes of those on low incomes, aiming to retrofit insulation on 10m homes by 2030.
The Conservative manifesto pledges an investment of £9.2bn for the following energy efficiency of homes, schools and hospitals, but the proportion of this that would be allocated to housing is not given.
The Liberal Democrats promise £6bn a year on home insulation and zero-carbon heating by the 5th year of the parliament alongside free retrofits for low-income homes and reduce VAT on home insulation. They also propose to raise funds through introducing a graduate Stamp Duty Land Tax by the energy rating of the property.
The Labour manifesto promises to upgrade almost all of the UK's 27 million homes to the highest energy-efficiency standards, reducing the average household energy bill by £417 per household per year by 2030 and eliminating fuel poverty, and with a specific commitment to invest £6bn in retrofitting houses across Scotland. Labour would also introduce a zero-carbon homes standard for all new homes and it would fund a new 'Decent Homes programme' to bring all council and housing association homes up to a good standard.
The retrofit promises may well be some of the most expensive and challenging to deliver. The Labour report 30 to 2030 contains a number of policy proposal to unlock the retrofit including a variable stamp duty, an option which is not contained in the manifesto itself.