Built Environment General Election Insight #3
TV debates, manifestos and fresh concerns about tower block cladding have prominently featured in a jam-packed week on the campaign trail.
Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have released their manifestos. And what were the main flavours of both manifestos? Ambitious green targets supported by technological innovation and huge affordable housing pledges.
But where is the Conservative manifesto? Details are being leaked at this moment, although the actual manifesto is expected to be released during the weekend. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, the debate around cladding has erupted once again, following the shocking events in Bolton, with a block of student apartments catching fire.
As usual, we’re breaking down all the latest news and announcements, so that you understand the context and the impact.
Follow us, as we jump into the latest bulletin.
The Labour manifesto – what you need to know
The Labour manifesto has taken the radicalism of the 2017 version and supercharged it. They are seeking to double the levels of public investment in the economy, from 2% of GDP to 4%, much of which will be spent on a huge programme of council house building.
As previously announced, huge swathes of the economy will be nationalised including water, electricity generation, Royal Mail and BT Openreach.
In the energy market, there will be a huge increase in renewables with 90% of electricity generation coming from renewable sources by 2030. The trade unions have been a brake on some of Labour’s more nuclear sceptic instincts with the manifesto backing new nuclear power stations.
Overall, with Brexit uncertainly due to continue under a Labour government, it remains to be seen whether they will be able to afford this level of investment. Despite the manifesto’s accompanying grey book which purports to set out how each pledge will be funded, Labour’s detractors will seek to find holes in John McDonnell’s economic modelling.
Housing & Development pledges:
- Build 150,000 social housing units a year by the end of the parliament, of which 100,000 will be council-built housing stock
- Change the definition of affordable rents to mean either social rent at half of market rent or a living rent at a third of average local incomes
- Fund housing pledges by using half of a Social Transformation Fund, amounting to £75 billion over five years using additional borrowing
- End Right to Buy and give councils the powers and funding to buy back former council properties from private landlords
- Establish a new duty on councils to plan and build social rent homes in their areas – whilst providing funding from national government
- Fund a new Decent Homes programme, bringing all council and housing association homes up to a good standard
- Social housing regeneration schemes will require ballot approval and the re-provision of new homes on-site and under the same terms
- Review planning guidance for flood risk areas
- Bring together transport and land-use planning to promote walking and cycling in towns and cities
- Prioritise brownfield sites for development, and protection of greenbelt
- End conversion of office blocks to homes through permitted development
- Put the voices of local people at the heart of the planning system
- Require the climate emergency to be factored in to planning decisions
- Local authorities to be able to set their own planning fees
- A ‘use it or lose it’ developer tax on stalled planning consents
- Give people ‘first dibs’ on new homes built in their area
- Create a new Department for Housing
- Create a Sovereign Land Trust, with powers to buy land cheaply for low-cost housing
- Levy on overseas companies buying housing
- End the sale of new leasehold properties, abolish ‘unfair’ fees and conditions and provide rights for leaseholders to buy the freehold at an affordable price
- Retain public control of the Land Registry and make the information on ownership more transparent
- End rough sleeping within five years with new Prime Minister-led taskforce
- Expand and upgrade existing hostels and ensure extra shelters and support are in place in all areas
- Make additional 8,000 homes available for people with a history of rough sleeping
- Provide councils with new powers to tax properties empty for over a year
- Consider a land value tax on commercial landlords as an alternative to business rates paid by their tenants
- List pubs as Assets of Community Value, so community groups have the first chance to buy local pubs under threat
- Give local government greater freedom to set planning fees and require the climate and environmental emergency to be factored into all planning decisions
- £1 billion fund to fit sprinklers and other safety measures in all high-rise council and housing association tower blocks
- Enforce replacement of dangerous Grenfell-style cladding on all high-rise homes and buildings
Private sector housing
- Reform Help to Buy, focussing on first-time buyers on ordinary incomes
- Promote low-cost first-time buyer home ownership with discounted homes for sale, where mortgage costs are linked to a third of average local incomes
- Introduce rent controls capped to inflation, open-ended tenancies and new binding minimum standards
- Fund renters’ unions in every part of the country to allow renters to defend their rights
- Water industry returned to public ownership
- A £400 billion National Transformation Fund to co-ordinate policies at national level with regional offices and an HQ in the north of England
- From the £400 billion, some £250 billion will fund a specific Green Transformation Fund
- Introduce a Local Transformation Fund in each English region, to exclusively fund infrastructure projects
- Regional Development Banks to provide local funding, governed by boards made up of key local stakeholders including trade unions and councillors
- Invest in three new ‘gigafactories’ and four metal reprocessing plants
- Build three new steel recycling plants and upgrade existing sites
- Invest in new plastics remanufacturing industry, reducing plastic waste
- Powers for councils to regulate bus services and take public ownership of bus networks
- Reinstate 3,000 bus routes
- Railways to be brought under public ownership
- Mainline upgrades, electrification, re-signalling, rolling stock replacements
- Crossrail for the North, to better connect northern regions
- Consultation with local communities to re-open branch lines
- Extension of high-speed rail networks by completing full HS2 route to Scotland
- Promotion of rail freight to reduce carbon emissions, air pollution and road congestion
- Increase funding for and promotion of walking and cycling
- Ensure street designs provide freedom for physically active outdoor play
- End new sales of combustion engine vehicles by 2030
- Invest in electric vehicle charging infrastructure and electric community car clubs
- £5.6 billion in funding to improve the standard of flood defences
Nationalisation and regulation
- The supply arms of the Big Six energy companies to be brought back into public ownership
- Create a new UK National Energy Agency to own and maintain the National Grid
- Establish 14 Regional Energy Agencies to replace the existing Distribution Network Operators.
- Ban fracking and introduce a windfall tax on oil companies
- Set a net-zero-carbon target for the energy system of 2039 at the latest
- Deliver 90% of electricity and 50% of heat from renewable and low-carbon sources by 2030
- Install 7,000 new offshore wind turbines and 2,000 onshore wind turbines
- Build enough solar panels to cover 22,000 football pitches
- Expand tidal energy
- Back the new nuclear power required for UK energy security
- Invest in grid enhancements, interconnectors and power storage
- Invest to reduce costs of renewable and low-carbon hydrogen production
- Upgrade all the UK’s 27million homes to highest energy-efficiency standards
- Introduce a zero-carbon homes standard for all new homes
- Roll out heat pumps, solar hot water and hydrogen, and invest in district heat networks using waste heat
- Expand distributed and community energy
- 3% of GDP will go towards research and development by 2030, funding Labour’s Green Industrial Revolution
The Liberal Democrat manifesto lowdown
The Lib Dems have focussed heavily on the effect the built environment has on climate change. Their very ambitious target of 80% of energy production coming from renewable sources by 2030 is well beyond what has been suggested by anyone other than the Greens.
Beyond battling the climate emergency, the other key theme is a £130 billion infrastructure fund including building 100,000 social homes per year and backing existing and new transport links including HS2 and East-West Rail.
With much of this investment coming from increased borrowing and a £50 billion “remain bonus” from cancelling Brexit, the big question must be, are they going to be in a position to deliver this ambitious programme?
Housing & Development pledges:
- Build 300,000 homes per year by 2024, including 100,000 for social rent
- Scrap Permitted Development Rights to convert offices to residential
- By 2022, all homes to have full connectivity to ultra-fast broadband
- Examine available funding and planning rules for retaining grassroots live music venues
- Amend planning rules to promote sustainable transport and land use
- Ensure all developers provide the local infrastructure needed alongside their new homes – specifically affordable homes and schools, doctors’ surgeries and roads, especially so for rural and coastal communities
- A stamp duty surcharge for overseas purchasers buying houses
- All new homes to be built to zero-carbon standard by 2021, rising to a more ambitious ‘Passivhaus’ standard by 2025, including the use of solar panels
- Reform building standards to promote smart technologies in the home
- Free energy-efficiency retrofits for low-income households
- Pilot a subsidised Energy Saving Homes scheme
- Graduate Stamp Duty by the energy rating of the property
- Cut VAT on home insulation products
- Support new low-carbon processes for cement and steel production
- Finance more social housing from a new £130 billion capital infrastructure fund.
- Introduce Rent to Own, whereby rent payments give tenants an increased stake in a property, allowing them to own outright after 30 years
- Set clearer standards for homes that are socially rented and require that complaints are dealt with in a timely manner
- Proactively enforce regulations that are intended to protect social renters
- Fully recognise tenant panels so that renters have a proper voice
- Devolve full control of Right to Buy to local councils.
- Devolve more decision-making power over key levers of economic development, including housing.
- Allow local authorities to increase council tax by up to 500% for second homes.
Private Rented Sector
- Introduce Help to Rent scheme, providing a government-backed tenancy deposit for all first-time renters under 30.
Infrastructure and Transport pledges:
- Investing part of the £130 billion capital infrastructure fund in upgrading transport and energy systems, building schools, hospitals and homes.
- Back HS2, Crossrail 2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and East-West Rail
- Implementation of light rail schemes for trams and tram-trains.
- Convert the rail network to facilitate ultra-low-emission technology by 2035 – prioritising routes from major ports.
- A freeze on new airport runways and opposition of expansion at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted or to any new airport in the Thames Estuary.
- Improve flood resilience for buildings and infrastructure with new high standards.
- Spend £12 billion over five years to support green energy commitments.
- Invest £5 billion in a new Green Investment Bank to support investment and innovation in zero-carbon and resource-efficient infrastructure.
A greener energy mix
- A target to reach at least 80% renewable electricity by 2030.
- Remove current restrictions on greenfield solar and onshore wind energy.
- Support investment and innovation in wave power, energy storage, demand response, smart grids and hydrogen.
- Build more interconnectors and guarantee security of supply.
- A total ban on fracking.
- Support councils to develop local electricity generation.
- Empower councils to develop community-energy saving projects
- Introduce and fund a new statutory duty on all local authorities to produce a Zero Carbon Strategy, including local energy, transport and land use targets.
Conservative housing announcements
The story: In advance of their manifesto launch this weekend, the Conservatives have pledged to deliver at least a million homes in the next five years and hit a target of 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s. They are also focussing on the private rental sector, including introducing lifetime rental deposits that can be transferred from one rental property to another and banning no fault evictions.
Their other focus is on first-time buyers with two big new schemes. The first is to introduce a new market in long-term fixed rate mortgages with only 5% deposit aimed at helping renters to buy their first home. The second pledge is the First Home Scheme to provide a 30% discount for local first-time buyers.
Agenda: The Conservatives have their eyes on the growing group of people in their 30s in affluent towns and suburbs who are increasingly unable to buy their own home. The Conservatives hope that in the long term, increasing the amount of people who own their own homes will ensure they have a greater stake in the financial stability of the nation. It is likely that they view this in the same way as the Margaret Thatcher Government did with Right to Buy.
Impact: A focus on increasing the supply of housing is at the forefront of both Conservative and Labour’s programme for government which is good news for the built environment sector. We will have to wait for their manifesto to see how they intend to pay for all this.
Whether they will be able to deliver their ambitious plan without further reform of planning and using the education and immigration systems to bring more people into the sector is still to be seen.
Cladding under the spotlight once again
The Story: Fire safety and cladding is back on the agenda after the devastating fire that ripped through student apartments in Bolton last Friday. It has been reported that the building was clad in high-pressure laminate (HPL). This is different from the aluminium composite materials used for cladding on Grenfell Tower. The government has now been accused of ‘downplaying the fire risk’ from this type of cladding. Labour’s shadow housing secretary John Healey accused ministers of refusing to act to ensure other types of cladding were checked beyond the type used on Grenfell. Calls are now being made to check HPL cladding on buildings, which according to the Fire Brigades Union is “more widespread” than the material found on Grenfell Tower.
Agenda: The use of cladding has been increasingly popular over the past decade and more. The potential risks posed by HPL and other types of cladding demonstrate the ongoing complexity of this issue more than two years after the Grenfell tragedy, and the relevance to private sector housing. Labour has already been highly critical of the government’s response to the Grenfell fire, so expect this to intensify during this election campaign.
Impact: Although Labour is keen to maintain the pressure on this issue, building safety is a priority for all the main parties. The government is expected to complete its test of HPL in March 2020. No matter the outcome of the general election, the conclusions will determine the next steps, which may mean all buildings using this material have to be stripped. And if that is the outcome, it could come at great cost to both public and private sector.
Latest Opinion Polling
Conservatives 41% (up 2% on last week)
Labour 29% (up 1% on last week)
Lib Dems 15% (down 1% on last week)
Brexit Party 7% (down 2% on last week)
Green Party 3% (down 1% on last week)
Source: Rolling poll tracker in The Guardian