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27 SEP 2019

Housing on Labour's agenda

The annual political party conferences may look like organised chaos – even more so this year because of Brexit and the Supreme Court ruling – but they are excellent opportunities to find out what is on politicians' agendas.

While the big political beasts make major announcements in the main halls, there are hundreds of smaller fringe events where ministers, MPs and assorted experts can discuss issues close to their hearts in a more relaxed atmosphere.

They were dominated this year by housing and concern that the cities are leaving towns behind, exacerbated by the last and current government's devolution programme.

Here are some points on the issues that were discussed:

Housing delivery

Last year, the Shadow Housing Minister John Healey MP outlined plans to address the housing crisis through several PRS-aligned policies and re-emphasising the establishment of a department for housing – a long-held RICS recommendation. This year, housing was expectedly a top domestic issue at Labour conference, and they covered a wide variety of other approaches to tackling the housing supply and affordability issues.

Relatedly, RICS met up with Shadow Housing Minister - Alex Cunningham MP - on a couple of occasions as he spoke at several events. Some of the issues he brought up are front and centre for RICS; issues such as better-quality housing – he particularly criticised housing developed through permitted development rights (PDR) – tenancies within the private rented sector (PRS), and greater roll out and use of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC). All of these issues are very much RICS' residential policy, and we have developed thought leadership on and around the core issues within these topics.

Cities, town centres and high streets

A number of fringe meetings tackled community development issues, asking questions such as 'Are cities leaving towns behind?' and 'How to deliver a high street fit for the future?'. The Shadow Minister for Housing and Local Government - Jim McMahon MP - was a central figure at many of these fringe meetings.

Discussion topics among Labour Party members and politicians covered a host of policy ideas and approaches that looked to enhance the current government administration's approach to the devolution programme and alluding to the notion that transport infrastructure, housing delivery, economic development, and investment decisions are better taken by local leaders rather than officials in Whitehall. This is a notion that RICS concurs with. In addition, Jeremy Corbyn MP, used his Leader's speech to announce an investment in Crossrail for the North as a means to provide a link between the metropolitan centres outside London. Certainly, an exciting prospect, and one that matches the recent commitment by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Northern Powerhouse Rail to Metro Mayors.

There was significant time spent on the possibility of reviewing and reforming the business rates system in England. RICS has repeatedly called for a complete 'root and branch' review of the current business rates system that is arms-length from government. One of RICS' UK policy priorities this year is high street renewal, and we see this review as central to that.

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