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Boyer commentary on the Conservative Party Manifesto

Karen Charles, Executive Director, Boyer:

Today saw the launch of the much-anticipated Conservative Party Manifesto with Rishi Sunak choosing the home of British Motorsport at Silverstone as the place to do this.

The Conservative Party has been subject to criticism from all sides in recent years when it comes to planning and housing.  The planning system has been reported by some to have been broken for some time, despite a total of 234,000 net additional homes being delivered in England in 2022-23 and the Government announcing today that they have met their previous promise to deliver one million homes in the last five  years (i.e. c200,000 homes per year). 

But those involved in housebuilding have been finding it harder than ever to secure planning permission for homes as they are burdened by ever- increasing environmental constraints and a rise in anti-development sentiment, particularly from those living in less urban, and typically more affluent, areas.  On the other hand, those opposing housing development believe the Conservative Party are responsible for unwelcomed additional housebuilding which is seen to impact on their quality of life.

Today, the Conservative Manifesto promises to deliver 1.6 million new homes in the next parliament if re-elected.  This equates to 320,000 homes every year for the next five years. 

The Manifesto sets out that to achieve the 1.6 million new homes, the Conservative Party will speed up planning for urban brownfield sites and scrap defective EU laws which make it difficult to secure planning permission.  The Prime Minister was clear today that supporting home ownership was a priority for the Party as he announced abolition of Stamp Duty for first time buyers on homes up to £425,000 and introducing a new Help to Buy initiative. 

The Manifesto proposes to deliver ‘a record number of homes each year on brownfield land in urban areas’ by providing a ‘fast-track route through the planning system for new homes on previously developed land in the 20 largest cities’. The Manifesto suggests densities will increase in inner London, forcing the Mayor to plan for more homes on brownfield sites, like underutilised industrial land.  It also promises to regenerate major sites like Euston, Old Oak Common and Thamesmead – although the planned regeneration of these sites is not new.

The Manifesto also promises to create locally-led urban development corporations in partnership with private sector and industrial investors, by supporting the delivery of new quarters in Leeds, Liverpool and York, plus delivery of the Cambridge 2050 plan.

The Manifesto also shows support for local and small builders by requiring councils to set land aside for them and lifting S106 burdens on smaller sites.  It also states that it will make sure local authorities use the Infrastructure Levy (the replacement for the Community Infrastructure Levy) to deliver the GP surgeries, roads and other local infrastructure needed to support the new homes that fund it.

Unsurprisingly, the Government has reiterated its ‘cast-iron commitment to protect the Green Belt’ and national planning protections that make it clear that there isn’t a requirements for councils to remove Green Belt land to meet housing need.  Whilst this will be popular with the historically Conservative authorities with a high proportion of Green Belt land, the change in the latest version of the NPPF which states that Councils are not expected to release Green Belt land to meet housing need has only led to a delay in plan-making and development plans being revised to remove planned Green Belt sites for housing.  All this leads to a reduction in housing delivery in areas already suffering from eye-watering house prices which simply price many people, including those running our essential local services (i.e. teachers, nurses, care workers etc.) out of the area.

Whilst no-one will dispute that development should be directed to urban brownfield sites first, the reality is that there is also a need and demand for homes in less urban locations, which often requires development on undeveloped greenfield sites as brownfield sites are unavailable.  Indeed, if the Prime Minister is going to achieve the increase in housebuilding as set out in the Manifesto, then the Government will need to reform the planning system and relax some planning restrictions which make it so time-consuming to prepare development plans, and so difficult to secure planning permission and deliver new homes in locations where people really want to live. 

The Conservative Party Manifesto on planning and housing is commendable, but all indications are that the constraints to housing delivery particularly houses outside less urban areas, by the apparent sole focus on delivering homes on brownfield sites in urban locations, will continue.

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