Creating new homes through the planning system: how the main political parties compare

Out-Law Analysis | 26 May 2017 | 5:01 pm | 2 min. read

ANALYSIS: While the three main parties all recognise the urgent need for more affordable homes to be created, a look at their pre-election manifestos shows that the way in which they intend to achieve this is very different.

Depending on which party is elected on 8 June, the housing and development industry could face yet more changes to a system already in a state of flux.

Unsurprisingly, given the plethora of debate and discussion around development planning and housing as a result of the Housing White Paper and related legislation, the Conservatives are not leading their general election campaign on their issue, hoping that the public are already clear on their intentions and plans for building new homes and speeding up the planning system.

Their manifesto repeats what we have already been told: that new homes for sale and rent would be delivered by "freeing up more land"; "speeding up build-out by encouraging modern methods of construction"; and "giving councils powers to intervene where developers do not act on their planning permissions". Competition in the market would be encouraged. High-density housing such as terraced streets, mansion blocks and mews houses would be supported.

On the issue of social housing, the Conservative manifesto promises new housing deals with councils that are "ambitious and pro-development" to build "fixed-term social houses, which will be sold privately after 10-15 years with an automatic right to buy for tenants, the proceeds of which will be recycled into further homes".

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats agree with the Conservatives on the volume of new homes needed, and that they should be sustainable and of good quality design - but, in contrast, both manifestos prefer direct government intervention in order to achieve this.

The Labour Party pledges to create a Department for Housing to improve the "number, standards and affordability of homes". It plans to build "at least 100,000 council and housing association homes a year for genuinely affordable rent or sale", and to extend the powers of councils so they can build more social housing. It supports the creation of New Towns as part of a housing pledge "to avoid urban sprawl".

The right to buy for council and social tenants would be suspended to "protect affordable homes for local people, with councils only able to resume sales if they can prove they have a plan to replace homes sold like-for-like". A promise to properly "resource and bolster planning authorities" and "put people and communities at the heart of planning" echo the Conservative promises in the Housing White Paper.

The Liberal Democrats have also taken a direct approach. They have set an increased target for housebuilding, of 300,000 homes per annum, and propose to fill the gap left in the market by "directly building … through a government commissioning programme". Ten more English garden cities are pledged as another way of creating homes, all backed by a new 'British Housing and Infrastructure Development Bank' to provide long-term capital and help attract finance.

To encourage council and social housing, the borrowing cap on local authorities would be lifted and the borrowing capacity of housing associations increased. The Liberal Democrats would end the voluntary right to buy for housing association homes, and reserve the right to end the right to buy for council homes if they choose. Local authorities would be given power to enforce housebuilding on unwanted public sector land, but local plans would be required to take into account "at least 15 years of future housing need" rather than the current five year requirement.

Kate Brock is a housing and planning law expert at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com.