Getting even tougher on the PRS: Liberal Democrats' manifesto

Lewis Johnston

Parliamentary Affairs Manager (RICS)

Yesterday’s launch of the Liberal Democrat Manifesto made it clear that the party is positioning itself as a defender of tenant’s interests. With all the major parties now committed to banning letting agent fees for tenants, the Lib Dems have gone further with a pledge to cap up-front deposits.

A row of rented terraced houses

Elsewhere, the manifesto makes commitments on infrastructure and the rural economy, and have based the manifesto on a flagship pledge for a second referendum on the final Brexit deal.

Housing

There is a clear commitment from the Lib Dems to intervene directly to drive up the supply of homes and ‘fill in the gaps left by the market’.

This is a positive acknowledgement of the scale of the housing crisis – we have long called for a holistic approach to housebuilding and public sector provision must be part of the mix. It's encouraging to see the party adopt our proposal to lift the borrowing cap for Local Authorities and allow them to build more, and providing extra freedom for Housing Associations is another lever they have said they’re willing to pull.

On the Private Rented Sector (PRS), the pledge to cap deposits will be welcomed by hard-pressed tenants but this could add to the squeeze on landlords and further restrict supply, putting upward pressure on rents for the very tenants the policy seeks to help.

We are currently developing a response to the consultation on banning letting agent fees for tenants, and will be working closly with the Government to shape policy in a way that enables a vibrant and secure PRS for both tenants and landlords. The ambition to raise standards in the PRS is very welcome and can be achieved by giving statutory force to the PRS Code of Practice which was developed by a cross-sector coalition led by RICS.

Elsewhere, the Lib Dems want Local Plans to take into account housing needs over a 15 year period, allow councils to levy up to 200% Council Tax on second homes and ‘buy-to-leave-empty’ properties, and create at least 10 new Garden Cities across England.

Infrastructure

The manifesto pledges to set up a new government-backed British Housing and Infrastructure Development Bank whose remit will include the provision of long-term finance for major new settlements. Regionally, the Lib Dems will continue to champion the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine (flagship policies from their time in the Coalition Government), and give the immediate go-ahead to the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project.

Superfast broadband is another clear priority with a commitment to ensure that every property in the UK is provided, by 2022, with a superfast broadband connection with a download speed of 30Mbps, an upload speed of 6Mbps, and an unlimited usage cap.

The party also promises ‘significant investment’ in road and rail infrastructure, including a continued commitment to HS2, Crossrail 2 and rail electrification. It is good to see this commitment – what is needed is a clear strategic pipeline based on the relative value of different projects.

Rural economy

The commitment to broadband provision is given an extra edge for hard-to-reach rural communities, with a pledge to invest £2 billion in innovative solutions to ensure the provision of high speed broadband across the rural UK.

The party will also work with local authorities to develop innovative ways of meeting rural needs – as the ‘4th utility’ broadband is a vital component of the rural economy so this is a positive approach.

Another £2 billion has been committed to a Rural Services Fund to finance capital investment in rural public services, and on rural housing, the Lib Dems will work with councils to provide social and affordable housing.

With only nine MPs, Tim Farron will be hoping his manifesto can cut-through to voters, and the document includes some clear and distinct positions across the built environment. However, the main element of the Lib Dem election platform is a front-and-centre offer of a second referendum on whatever Brexit deal is reached with the EU at the end of the Article 50 negotiations.

Whether such a Remain strategy can help the party recover seats lost at the last election remains to be seen.

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