17 May 2017
As the election campaign picks up speed, it is encouraging to see the parties start to set out clear policies for the built environment. The Labour Manifesto includes a wide range of policy commitments to the built environment; the prominence given to the sector in the party’s platform is welcome. However, as ever with manifesto commitments, the test of applicability is whether they can be funded.
This election offers the electorate a starker choice of policy platforms than has been on offer in recent elections. Labour has made clear their preference for a more active role for Government, with a pledge to increase borrowing to fund capital expenditure (although not current spending). The commitment to re-nationalise rail franchises and public utilities is a much bolder and different stance than the party has taken at any time in the last two decades.
Labour have committed to invest £250 billion over 10 years and will keep the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC). This is the kind of ambition for infrastructure we have called for in our policy manifesto Priorities for the Built Environment, and we’re glad to see it given such prominence.
The NIC has provided much-needed strategic focus to infrastructure policy since its establishment and deserves to command this level of support. The next government needs to work with the private sector to unlock funding and deliver strategically vital projects — surveying professionals can bring their cost and project management expertise to bear on these schemes — ensuring delivery on time and on budget. Something vital to maintaining and encouraging investment.
The familiar pledge to deliver one million homes has been repeated; what’s more interesting as a statement of intent is the commitment to establish a new Department for Housing and overhaul the Homes and Communities Agency as a delivery body. The party has also said they will give local authorities new powers to build, something our own manifesto identified as important for driving up supply. The commitment to properly resource planning departments also addresses a long-standing concern around the capacity of planning teams.
The pledge to raise standards and encourage more secure tenancies in the Private Rented Sector (PRS) is a positive step towards a professionalised sector. This ambition could be achieved by implementing our proposal and putting the industry-developed PRS Code into legislation, raising standards without overburdening the sector. However, Labour’s proposed inflationary cap on rent rises is misguided and could squeeze supply, with negative consequences for tenants.
With homelessness on the rise, we are also pleased to see a commitment to a national strategy to tackle the problem. This year, we launched our own anti-homelessness campaign A Home for Cathy and we want to work together with the next government, as well as Metro Mayors, to find concrete solutions.
Labour make general commitments to continuing devolution of powers to the English regions and devolved administrations, but much more detail is required. Terms such as "devolve powers" and "necessary funding" need to be explained. Our professionals in English regions might generally welcome a Minister for England, regional government offices, powers over economic development and no loss of EU structural funding, but the devil will be in the detail.
In terms of being guided by public opinion on directly elected mayors, we believe the private sector business is looking for strong local leadership and see the Metro Mayor as someone who can step in when unnecessary costs, delays and red tape hold back development, growth, jobs and homes.
We agree with the commitment to invest in UK plc at a regional level, in particular on infrastructure and housing; this would support devolution and the rebalancing of the UK economy. There are concerns over the means of funding these pledges, for example, how will borrowing repayments be made? Increased taxes could hit companies, innovation and investment.
We would like to see this commitment across the board — transport, energy, broadband and housing — to address years of unfair investment across the UK under governments of all persuasions.
Labour is the first major party manifesto to be launched; the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and SNP manifestos are expected in the next week or so. As polling day draws near, we want all parties to focus on the housing, infrastructure and construction challenges we face. While Brexit will no doubt be top of the next Government’s in-tray, it must not lose sight of the built environment.
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