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2015 General Election Candidates Opinions On Housing

Britain's severe lack of housing stock has come to the fore as a political issue in recent years.

And growing public interest in the issue has been amply reflected in the policy pledges contained within the candidate parties' manifestos.

In this guide, we'll attempt to cut through the fluff and give you the bottom line on how the main parties will seek to tackle the UK's under-supply of homes.

Labour 

Taking to Manchester's Old Granada Studios to launch his party's manifesto – Labour leader Ed Miliband claimed "Britain can be better".

Despite a focus on the economy and withering attacks on his coalition opponents' record – Miliband didn't make a single mention of housing during his speech.

The manifesto itself, however, talks at length about the state of British homebuilding, noting that the country finds itself "in the midst of the biggest housing crisis in a generation" – reflected by the lowest level of peacetime housebuilding since the 1920s.

Labour's flagship housing pledge sets out its aim to nearly double the current level of homes being built, with a target of 200,000 houses a year by 2020.

"Young people have been priced out of home ownership. Fewer affordable homes are being built, homelessness is rising, and millions face insecurity and poor standards in the private rented sector," the manifesto states.

The party seeks to implement recommendations set out in the Lyons review, tackling key barriers to home building, with measures including:

  • Releasing more land
  • Giving local communities new powers to facilitate housebuilding
  • Providing local authorities with the option to offer first call to first-time buyers in areas of housing growth
  • The creation of a Future Homes fund that will channel money saved in Help to Buy ISAs directly into the building of new homes
  • Offering local authorities 'use it or lose it' powers to encourage developers to build
  • Increase industry competition by backing smaller builders via the Help to Build scheme
  • Incentivising the building of more affordable homes by reforming the council house financing system and prioritising capital investment in housing.

Conservatives

Two days after Miliband's address, Prime Minister and Conservative leader David Cameron headed to Swindon to deliver his party's pledges for the next parliament.

"Part of having a good life is having a home of your own. It’s not about ‘assets’ and ‘appreciating values’ – it’s about someone standing there with their keys in their hand thinking ‘this place is mine'. That’s why Conservatives have committed to building a property-owning democracy for generations," he said.

Cameron set out plans to force councils to sell off the most expensive council properties as they become vacant and replace them with affordable housing in the same area. He claimed this move would save billions of pounds each year, which could be reinvested in housing.

This funding would aid in the creation of a £1 billion fund to develop brownfield (sites where development has previously taken place) land to make it ready for building and pave the way for 400,000 new homes.

He also laid out plans to extend the Conservative's Right to Buy scheme, which enables council house tenants to purchase their property outright at a discounted price.

The party's manifesto went into further depth on its housing policies, which includes the creation of 200,000 new starter homes that will be exclusively granted to first-time buyers under the age of 40.

In addition to the Right to Buy extension, a Conservative government would also look to expand the Help to Buy Equity Loan scheme to 2020, with the avowed aim of getting more people on to and up the housing ladder.

Its manifesto went on to set out changes to the planning system that would facilitate the creation of new homes, including:

  • Requiring councils to allocate land for self-build properties with a view to doubling the number of these by 2020
  • Further safeguarding the Green belt
  • Supporting locally-led garden cities and towns
  • Prioritising brownfield land for new developments and forcing councils to ensure 90 per cent of suitable brownfield sites have planning permission for residential development by 2020
  • The creation of a London Land Commission, which will have a mandate to identify and release surplus brownfield land.

Liberal Democrats

Battling through an ill-timed power outage to deliver his party's manifesto, Nick Clegg claimed the Lib Dems would add a "heart to a Conservative government and a brain to a Labour one".

Despite placing a priority on education in his delivery speech, the Liberal Democrat manifesto touches on housing in a variety of ways.

"For people to live fulfilled lives they need a decent home at a cost they can afford. But that simple ambition is getting further and further out of reach. Britain has failed for decades to build enough homes, and in many places property prices and rents have risen beyond what normal working families can afford," it states.

Highlighting the Lib Dem's work in addressing the housing crisis as part of the coalition, the manifesto sets out a number of priorities, including addressing "plummeting" home ownership among those under the age of 40 and the risk of a new housing bubble.

Some of the key housing policies contained within the document include:

  • An 'ambitious' goal of 300,000 new homes each year
  • Ten new garden cities in areas where housing is most needed
  • Help to Buy equity loans
  • A new Rent to Own scheme, where monthly payments contribute to a stake in the property
  • Council Tax cuts of £100 for 10 years for those that insulate their homes
  • More 'ambitious' targets on promoting development on unwanted public sector sites
  • Introducing a government commissioning programme to boost house building
  • The creation of a new government-backed investment bank to deliver long-term capital for major projects.

 

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UKIP

Eager to prove itself as more than a one-policy party, UKIP leader Nigel Farage took to Thurrock Essex to set out its 'serious' manifesto that he claimed had been independently costed and verified.

Although breaking from the EU and a crackdown on immigration took centre stage at the launch, the manifesto itself goes in to some depth on UKIP's housing policies.

"UKIP is the only party to recognise that a house needs to be built every seven minutes to meet demand. The housing shortage is leading to higher rents, less stable tenancies, and rising homelessness. This is completely unsustainable," said the party's housing and environment spokesman Andrew Charalambous.

Among its key pledges on housing were:

  • Bringing empty homes back into use
  • Charging 50 per cent more council tax to those whose homes have been empty for over two years (with exceptions for members of the armed forces)
  • Incentivising brownfield development and creating a National Brownfield Sites Register
  • Increasing the supply of affordable housing by relaxing planning regulations in regard to converting commercial and office space into residences
  • Identifying and releasing long-term dormant land held by local and central government
  • Encouraging local authorities to prioritise "people with strong local connections" in terms of housing allocations
  • Preventing foreign nationals from accessing social housing until they have lived in the UK and paid tax and National Insurance for a minimum of five years
  • Denying non-British nationals access to Right to Buy or Help to Buy schemes (unless they have served in the armed forces).

The manifesto went on to set out plans to replace the National Planning Policy Framework with new guidelines that would seek to protect the green belt, prioritise brownfield sites for new housing and promote smaller developments in rural areas.

The Green Party

Speaking at the manifesto launch in Dalston, London – Green Party leader Natalie Bennett and Brighton MP Caroline Lucas called for a "peaceful political revolution" to tackle some of the biggest problems facing Britain.

While environmental concerns, unsurprisingly, played a large role in the Greens' policy announcements, the manifesto itself contains a wealth of detail on this burgeoning party's aims on the housing front.

"The Green Party has policies to make housing affordable and sustainable, to make sure there is enough to go round, and to provide better quality and greater security in the private rented sector," it states.

The manifesto places the blame for the current housing crisis at the foot of market forces, a lack of investment in public housing and a private rented sector plagued by "insecurity".

Some of its key housing pledges include:

  • Stabilising house prices by spreading development evenly across the country and de-incentivising 'buy to let'
  • Bringing empty homes back into use
  • Phasing out Stamp Duty and investigating the introduction of a Land Value Tax
  • Minimising encroachment on to greenfield sites (areas where no previous development has taken place)
  • Providing 500,000 social rented homes by increasing the social housing budget to £6 billion a year
  • Devolving housing benefit budgets to councils
  • Ending the Right to Buy scheme
  • Requiring all new homes to be built to Passivhaus standard.
  • Repealing the National Planning Policy Framework with a view to devolving greater planning powers to local government.

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