In our blog post of 4 October 2019 we looked at potential land use and planning policies announced at the Labour and Liberal Democrat Party conferences this autumn and how they could affect developers. Since then, the Election has been set for 12 December and the major parties have published their manifestos. To what extent do manifesto policies affecting real estate reflect what we were expecting to see from these parties, and what changes are likely to be taken forward regardless of which party has (or parties have) the balance of power in the next government?
Land for the Many
Worthy of note is that the Labour manifesto more closely reflects land use policies adopted at the Labour Party conference than those advocated by the report “Land for the Many” edited by George Monbiot (on which we wrote in the PLJ in October). The manifesto looks to “proceed with a housing programme with the maximum practical speed until every family in this island has a good standard of accommodation”, but what has not been included is much fine detail of how Labour will achieve its goals. The establishment of new Department for Housing and a new English Sovereign Trust were heralded in the April 2018 Labour Party Green Paper “Housing for the Many“, but concepts suggested in Land for the Many such as Community Land Trusts, Compulsory Sale Orders, a Community Ownership use class, Common Ground Trusts, Public Development Corporations and a Community Participation Agency are not expressly carried forward. This isn’t to say that these ideas are dead and buried; the generality of the manifesto language in places leaves scope for the re-emergence of some concepts later.
Commonality across the party lines
As would be expected, the themes of Brexit, the housing crisis and the Climate Emergency run throughout each of the three manifestos. With regard to the Climate Emergency, whichever party/parties are successful we can expect to see speedy investment in, for example, electric vehicles and energy efficiency, and increased protection for the environment and landscapes. As for housing, there is agreement that the delivery of housing in sufficient numbers and at an affordable price needs to increase although the parties differ in how they will achieve this; proposals are wide-ranging covering tenure, protection for tenants, quality, design and the Green Belt, warranting deeper consideration than is possible in the confines of this blog.
However, there are also other common themes:
Communities and the devolution of power
“Land for the Many” featured communities being given greater control and say over development and planning policy. This still resonates in the Labour manifesto and is given similar voice in the Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos as well. The idea of devolving greater power to local authorities and communities is popular with each of the parties, for example, with the Conservatives proposing a community ownership fund to encourage local takeovers of civic organisations or community assets that are under threat and the Liberal Democrats wanting “local areas to take control of the services that matter to them most”. Further than this, in a dramatic extension of localism, all three parties advocate devolution of power to the regions, with Labour promising to re-establish regional Government Offices and de-centralise decision-making, the Liberal Democrats promising to “[embark] on a radical redistribution of power away from Westminster to the nations, regions and local authorities … introducing a written constitution for a federal United Kingdom”, and the Conservatives voicing an ambition for “full devolution across England” with publication of an English Devolution White Paper next year.
National and local infrastructure
Each of the three parties advocates spending on national infrastructure, particularly in the regions which is in line with the theme of devolving power away from the south-east. The Conservatives will invest an additional £100 billion on infrastructure investment such as roads and rail, build Northern Powerhouse Rail and restore many of the Beeching lines. The Labour Party will also re-open branch lines, commits to Crossrail for the North and extending high-speed rail networks nationwide, and proposes a Local Transformation Fund to fund local infrastructure in each English region. The Liberal Democrats are committed to HS2, Crossrail 2 and other major new strategic rail routes, and will spend £130 billion on infrastructure from transport and energy systems to schools, hospitals and homes with a £50 billion Regional Rebalancing Programme for infrastructure spend across the nations and regions. Interestingly, there is no consensus on how to deal with airport expansion.
The timing of the provision of local infrastructure (schools, surgeries, local roads, etc) is something raised by both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives: the Liberal Democrats intend to reform planning law to require developers to provide essential local infrastructure alongside new homes; the Conservatives say that infrastructure must be delivered ahead of new housing developments being occupied, although help will be available from the £10 billion Single Housing Infrastructure Fund. In either case this could have an impact on viability.
Vibrant town centres
Each of the parties acknowledges the issues that currently trouble our town centres and those who occupy them. The Conservatives promise to establish a new Towns Fund and to cut taxes for small local businesses. Labour will give local government “powers” to put empty shops to good use and will “let struggling companies go into protective administration, so they can be sold as a going concern”, which could also help avoid empty retail units on high streets and in local centres. Finally, we can expect to see the existing but controversial permitted development rights for converting offices and shops to dwellings disappear under either a Labour or Liberal Democrat government.
What is difficult to predict, as always, is how much of what is promised in each of these manifestos will end up being delivered. Whatever sort of government we wake up to on 13 December, it seems obvious that change is going to come. Be it Brexit-related or climate-related, there are very strong messages being conveyed by each of these parties that could impact us all, and it would be a brave blogger who dares to suggest with any certainty what the next few months will hold in store …