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News & opinion

4 OCT 2019

Three strikes and housing is out of focus

Much like their Brexit stances, the three main political parties have unclear housing priorities that at their heart only seek to solve one problem, fail to address the whole issue and alienate a wider group of people while attempting to appease only one.

With Party Conference season coming to a close, none of the main political parties have convincingly put housing as a priority or promoted it within their conference as one of the top issues to be tackled. Labour were the most absent in the housing debate, with most of their housing policy coming from the Shadow Chancellor and not the Shadow Secretary of State.

The Conservatives put housing the highest of all three, making planning prominent, but failing to address the key issue of the necessity for master planning and placemaking in getting housing delivered for the long terms needs of the nation. The Liberal Democrats placed emphasis on s21 and social housing; but lacked conviction.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats highlighted very similar priorities and issues with almost identical policy focuses, and they both had absentee housing representatives. Neither party had their housing representatives speaking before housing debates, unlike many of the other policy areas debated within their respective conference halls.

They both outlined ambitions for social housing if they are elected, with the Liberal Democrats outlining more practical plans in terms of build numbers, who will build it, and how it will be built. Labour's social housing focus was in line with many of their conference announcements in outlining a plan that still overly relies on the private sector delivering for public need.

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Much like their Brexit stances, the three main political parties all have unclear priorities regarding housing

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats should be commended for their focus on the importance of Local Authorities in getting housing delivered to meet housing need. Labour released a paper with case studies of Local Authorities who exemplified best practice in meeting housing targets within localities they control.

The Liberal Democrats put the challenge to their members who are representatives of Local Authorities to make a decision if they view housing as important then to make that the political sword to die on, though did this privately through fringe events. It is disappointing that both parties didn't decide to make this issue a prominent platform of their conference by giving key housing speeches which could champion the message.

Both parties also had a relentless pursuit for the removal of s21 at all costs, with both embedding language of demonising landlords within their policy. Landlords who do the right thing might not make the front page like a rogue landlord, but statistics overwhelmingly support the notion that those who do the right thing are the large majority.

We must not continue to try meet housing targets, but start addressing actual need, building homes in the required tenure, and size, where they are needed.

The language of divisiveness within the Private Rented Sector does nothing to actually address the key issues, but drives those who keep safe houses with reasonable rent out of the market and embeds those we want to keep out - compounding issues further. Labour was alone in outlining further PRS interventions including rent caps, with all their proposals likely having the unintended consequence of making the problems they aim to solve worse.

Both parties spoke of poor standards within the industry, but neither party truly proposed any policy to look at actually improving standards within the industry or regulating those who manage rental properties - whether agent or landlord. This has been a long term recommendation of RICS; ensuring a balance between the needs of tenants and landlords, bringing transparency and providing examples of what good looks like.

residential building, flats, RICS, SB, 050218
Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are yet to prioritise social housing in a way that would benefit local communities across the country

The Conservative Party, through both their Secretary of State and Housing Minister, made multiple announcements around housing - encompassing planning, design, permitted development rights (PDR) and modern methods of construction. While there was clearly ambition to give housing priority, the Government didn't announce anything that would go towards holistically helping with housing supply, and was merely more tinkering.

The announcement around PDR with the ability to build up and increase density could help deliver residential property, but the Government must address the current issues within PDR including space standards, quality and that they aren't required to contribute to s106 if PDR - even with this new ability - is to actually deliver the homes that are needed. They must also ensure that unintended consequences such as right to light violations are prevented. Housing isn't a science experiment; the people of England cannot be the test subjects of housing thought processes, and we must look at policy thoroughly before it is implemented.

Despite the controversy over the delivery of her speech, Esther McVey's focus on MMC as a compliment to traditional build methods is welcomed by RICS. We would encourage her to ensure that she addresses the issues and opportunities around finance, social value, skills, and technology as highlighted in the RICS policy statement released in July this year.

Housing design will not address the opposition to development; only placemaking can start to address that. We must not continue to try and meet housing targets, but start addressing actual need, and building homes in the required tenure and size where they are needed. Social infrastructure - as well as physical infrastructure - also needs to be planned and delivered in conjunction with housing delivery.

Studies have shown that placemaking makes good commercial sense. With a greater focus on environmental impacts of our lifestyles, Government and industry must start building homes that recognise good placemaking - and homes help create healthier populations, which decreases the stresses on the NHS.

RICS would urge the Government, as well as the opposition parties, to start prioritising placemaking, mixed tenure developments and adequately funded planning departments, as well as a focus on building communities - not housing target numbers - in all of their housing policies. Housing cannot be a one tenure debate nor one issue focus; its not a one-size-fits-all sector, and local communities must take control with proper planning for their long term ambitions, and not buckle under immediate pressures and concerns.