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Strong communities and stable building rates: what would the Conservative Manifesto mean for local housing?

PUBLISHED: 20:00 18 May 2017

Conservative party leader Theresa May arrives at the Conservative Party manifesto launch in Halifax on Thursday 18 May to launch the manifesto

Conservative party leader Theresa May arrives at the Conservative Party manifesto launch in Halifax on Thursday 18 May to launch the manifesto

PA Wire/PA Images

Here's what the Conservative Party's manifesto has to say on housing, including more homes promised and support more support pledged to councils

Claire-Louise Leyland (second from right) canvassing with Conservative supporters in Hampstead & KilburnClaire-Louise Leyland (second from right) canvassing with Conservative supporters in Hampstead & Kilburn

Theresa May has today launched the Conservative Party manifesto for the General Election on June 8th. The manifesto promises to “fix the broken housing market”, admitting that “We have not built enough homes in this country for generations, and buying or renting a home has become increasingly unaffordable.”

In one of the few quantitative promises in the document, the Conservative Party pledges to meet the 2015 commitment to deliver a million homes by the end of 2020, and adds 500,000 more by 2022. The party promises to build 160,000 houses on its own land and will review the design of state buildings to ensure that they make a positive local contribution.

Indeed, local communities get much attention in the manifesto. May promises to improve the monitoring of litter dropping in public, and to improve the quality of road surfaces by filling in potholes. One million more trees will be planted in towns and cities. That might make less difference in Hampstead and Highgate, notoriously one of London’s leafier areas, but would improve air quality across the city.

The quality of housing has also come under fire, with the manifesto laying the blame on councils. “Councils have been amongst the worst offenders in failing to build sustainable, integrated communities. In some instances, they have built for political gain rather than for social purpose,” reads the manifesto.

Last month, the Mayor Sadiq Khan attended a raid of a rental property in Newham, after which he announced his ‘name and shame’ database for rogue landlords and agents. Substandard rental housing is now one of the Housing Offences that can be reported to the database by tenants. Camden is one of the six boroughs to sign up to the pilot scheme.

The Conservatives promise fixed term council homes to be sold privately after ten to fifteen years, with first Right to Buy going to tenants. The land and housing value will then be recycled into further homes. Reformed compulsory purchase rules will be brought in to enable councils to more easily build on valuable pocket sites and derelict buildings.

Selling off council homes after ten years through right to buy goes against the policies of the Labour Party, which has promised more homes in council ownership and a suspension of Right to Buy. A recent report showed that Camden council had bought back homes sold off under Right to Buy at a huge mark up given the rising cost of land, and this manifesto pledges little to stop that.

Ambitious councils and housing associations will be supported with low-cost capital funding, and will be more able to intervene when developers sit on land with planning permission as per the Housing White Paper.

The Conservatives have also promised to appeal to a wider range of developers, arguing that carelessness and poor planning have blighted new developments, and pledges that more people will benefit from future urban regeneration schemes.

The Camden Community Investment Programme (CIP) has recently come under fire from Green Party AM Sian Berry. Her CIP Challenge website took issue with the number of council homes provided by the council’s scheme, arguing net figures were less than often publicised. Speaking to the Ham & High, Ms Berry questioned the term ‘regeneration’ scheme and re-labelled such building projects “development schemes.”

Specialist housing for older people will be supported by helping housing associations to increase their stock and more private capital will be invested.

The downsizer market in Camden is booming. There are currently two PegasusLife developments in the works at No.79 Fitzjohn’s in Hampstead and Hampstead Green Place, as well as Highgate Court and Buxmead in East Finchley to name a few new builds. With prices at No.79 starting at £2,575,000, however, these are for those with deep pockets and councils will have to do better to keep pace.

There’s no word on private renters, indeed the word ‘rental’ is omitted from the document in its entirety, neither is there any mention of deposits and there’s only two references to mortgages.

In a borough where the average deposit sits at £83,219, the average house price is ten times that and the average wage is £60,300, the house price to wage ratio of homes in Camden is 13.80. This manifesto offers little concrete to tackle that in the next five years.

This is a word-heavy, numbers-light document, and a pretty quick read on the housing front.

It’s pragmatic, accepting the hardship ahead and avoiding figures in favour of wordy pledges, and doesn’t commit to much outside the realms of ‘as far as possible’ and ‘we will improve’. Quite how the Conservatives are going to make good on their promise to “fix” the broken housing market isn’t answered.

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