Go to Boyer News

Boyer commentary on the Liberal Democrat Party Manifesto

Lawrence Turner, Director of Boyer:

The Liberal Democrat Party is the first party to unveil its housing policies, with a manifesto, titled ‘For a Fair Deal.’ One of the key promises made by the Party is to deliver a staggering 380,000 homes per year, surpassing the pledges made by both Labour and the Conservatives. While the ambition to address the housing crisis is commendable, there are three key obstacles that stand in the way of achieving this target.

Hurdle 1: Community opposition

A major hurdle to an ambitious house-building programme is the deep-rooted opposition to new housing within local communities. Psychologists often explain that it is the social perception of risk from new development that leads to resistance. Despite a widespread agreement on need for more homes, local communities frequently voice opposition to new development. Perceived negative impacts on the local community’s quality of life (such as traffic congestion, strain on infrastructure and parking) lead to defensive behaviour such as NIMBYism, hindering the construction of new homes. This resistance poses a significant barrier to achieving the target of 380,000 homes per year.

Hurdle 2: Planning system challenges

Our planning system and localised decision-making process for new housing development also poses challenges to rapid housebuilding. The system often disproportionately reflects the views and interests of local objectors to new development, over the broader benefits to the community. This localised approach can cause delays in granting planning permission, thereby hampering progress towards the ambitious target set by the Liberal Democrats.

Hurdle 3: Industry limitations

The construction industry faces limitations in capacity and supply chain. Delivering 380,000 homes annually would require a significant scaling up of construction activities, which may strain the existing resources and expertise within the sector. The shortage of skilled labour, materials, and infrastructure could pose a significant obstacle to achieving this target.

The manifesto includes several key policies aimed at addressing these challenges. Some of these proposals, such as expanding Neighbourhood Planning and building Garden Cities, have been met with scepticism as they are not new initiatives and have their own limitations.

Neighbourhood Plans

Neighbourhood Plans, for instance, have often been used to resist development rather than facilitate it, leading to further delays in housing delivery.

Garden Cities

While we welcome new Garden Cities, we seem them as part of a much longer-term strategy to deliver new homes, often requiring 10-20 years lead-in time before any new homes are constructed. New Garden Cities will need a comprehensive, strategic approach to identify the most sustainable locations for the new settlements; as well as a form of land assembly by local authorities, along the lines of the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto pledge to reform the Land Compensation Act 1961.


Moreover, the proposal to implement a 'use-it-or-lose-it' approach to planning permissions, for developers who fail to build, could be problematic in a market in which consumer confidence drives construction activity. The lack of clear evidence of land banking by developers raises questions about the necessity and effectiveness of such a policy in boosting housing supply. The phenomenon of land banking is more a symptom of the housing crisis, rather than a cause.

Lack of land allocated for development

For the reasons explained above, the process of acquiring development land, securing planning permission and building new homes is costly, protracted and has significant risk for a developer. Local Plans often do not allocate sufficient housing land to meet demand, or if they do, only enough for five (or now sometimes only four) years’ supply, ensuring the scarcity of development land.

Delivering 380,000 homes per year, will also require local authorities to identify sufficient housing land that is deliverable in line with planning policy and therefore viable.

Net Zero

While commendable, the requirement that all new buildings are built to a zero-carbon standard raises issues around development viability – something that will need to be addressed and balanced with the need to deliver housing at pace.

Local authority resourcing

We welcome the pledge to increase resources for local authorities: this is crucial to improve housing delivery. However, a significant amount of funding, training and support will need to be provided to local authorities to deliver all the proposed Liberal Democrat housing policies. For example, the requirement for all major development to achieve 100% biodiversity net gain (BNG) will require a significant ramping up of resources and skills within local authorities to assess, review and agree all BNG proposals. Without the necessary resources this will likely result in further delays to house building. The Liberal Democrats also propose to allow local authorities, individually, to set the planning fees that developers pay. However, there are several issues that would need to be considered here. Firstly, that the funds raised would be ring-fenced for the local authority planning department; secondly, whether localised planning fees would encourage or discourage development between neighbouring authorities, which may not create an environment conducive to cooperation and strategic planning.


So while the Liberal Democrats' emphasis on funding local planning departments and promoting brownfield development is a step in the right direction, the manifesto lacks detailed strategies to overcome the structural challenges facing the housing sector. The manifesto pledges to build capacity within local authorities, encourage rural housing expansion, and trialling community land auctions are positive steps, but may not be sufficient to achieve the ambitious target of 380,000 homes per year.

While the Liberal Democrats' manifesto highlights the urgency of addressing the housing crisis, the Party's proposed policies lack sufficient detail at this time and face several obstacles that need to be overcome. Psychological resistance to new developments, local governance challenges, and constraints within the construction industry present significant barriers to achieving the target of 380,000 homes per year. While the Party's proposals offer some solutions, a more comprehensive approach is needed to address the complex challenges of housing delivery in the UK.”

Related news articles

Our experience spans multiple sectors

We provide planning and design services across a wide range of sectors. Take a look at our latest work.