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25 SEP 2019

Jeremy Corbyn's speech: Ambitious, bold, and repeated

There was a sense of deja-vu in Jeremy Corbyn's leader's speech; with echoes of statements we heard at last year's Labour conference in Liverpool: Brexit, housing, nationalisation and electioneering.

A year is a [very] long time in politics; but it seems that not a lot has changed in the last 365 days. The key issues are now carried over to 2019; with a continuing lack of detail on built environment proposals. Labour should have added more meat on the bones of their bold policies announced over the last year.

The key difference of this year's speech, however, was the bringing forward of the timing by a day, following the ruling on the government prorogation, therefore, using the opportunity to challenge the PM and lay out domestic priorities.

In last year's speech, we heard great ambitions for the domestic built environment agenda, but RICS was disappointed with the lack of detail in Labour proposals.

The proposals, as in most announcements this year had great ambition, but no detail. Corbyn's well-versed agenda of nationalised utilities – water, rail and the national grid – was green-lighted, and the conference delegation was informed that a future labour government would steer significant capital investment into the built environment; to the sum of £250bn into upgrading transport, energy and broadband infrastructure. A bold and ambitious investment which is very much needed to counter the infrastructure deficit in the UK. Whether these infrastructure projects would be nationalised or not, it would be prudent of a future labour government to consider the development, maintenance and whole-life costings of infrastructure projects, and how the International Construction Management Standard, 2nd Edition, should be used to approximately assesses the optimum construction cost of design and whole life-cycle costings for sustainable infrastructure.

Aside from domestic issues analysed below, Brexit was key; with the Labour leader clarifying their approach: if elected, to secure a deal with the EU, then take it back for a public vote. Certainly, one approach to take as a means to balance both sides of the debate within the party's membership and public.

Housing

Jeremy Corbyn spoke of the need to stand up for tenants and start the largest council house building programme in a generation. However, as the chancellor only spoke of one user group of private rented tenure, the lack of detail on achieving their ambitious build targets makes it hard to see a genuine change for housing supply and conditions. Standards are the only way to improve private tenant conditions, not rental caps, eviction changes or tenure lengths. If Labour truly care for tenants, they will look to adopt minimum standards for all who rent a property whether agent or private landlord.

Social housing must come from the social sector, RICS supports Labour's ambition for councils to start building again and to deliver social homes for those in need, but they must provide the details of how they will deliver it, including looking at alternative methods of delivery if it is not to be yet another arbitrary figure that isn't met.

Climate Change

Reducing carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050, or by the more ambitious target of 2030 was well debated at Labour conference, and this will require significant decarbonisation investment and upskilling. Given that over a third of carbon emissions are attributed to the built environment, industry needs to upskill in green building technologies, as well as using innovative solutions to re-imagine the fabric of our cities and infrastructure.

Government should adopt measures such as reducing, or providing a break, on VAT for home repairs, maintenance and improvement work to retrofit existing buildings, and they should champion global property measurement standards such as IPMS, to enable further and consistent carbon emissions reduction within the sector.

 

Cities and devolution

An investment in crossrail for the north is an exciting prospect; and chimes well with the recent government commitment to Metro Mayors and city devolution.

However, how this would work with, or includes, HS2, or differs from the government's north rail pledge, remains to be seen.

The government's approach to the devolution programme has been jaded for some time now, but should Labour lead the next government we would hope they would honour this investment in the knowledge that transport infrastructure, housing delivery, economic development, and investment decisions are better taken by local leaders rather than officials in Whitehall.

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