Built Environment General Election Insight #4
The Conservative manifesto finally appeared on Sunday afternoon, following last week’s Liberal Democrat and Labour documents. At 64 pages it is the most concise of the manifestos but despite that it certainly isn’t short of content.
The document is notable for its range of pledges from multi-billion pound big ticket items to surprisingly micro pledges – such as mandating all new streets to be pleasantly tree lined in the future.
Also surprising is the sheer scale of some of the funding commitments, with the Conservatives having relaxed their own fiscal rules to provide some headroom for public expenditure to rise. We now have three versions of big spenders all vying for power – all offering to splash hundreds of billions around in infrastructure investment.
Notable is the newfound interest in ‘superbuses’ and spending on rail, matters normally relegated to footnotes in a Conservative Party manifesto. This time, regional rail investment in the Midlands, the North, East Anglia and the South West, along with an eye-catching commitment to re-open some of the long ago axed Beeching branch lines to left behind towns, receive major billing. These areas all sound like the key target areas for attracting Leave voters who would not otherwise traditionally vote Conservative. However, far more hard cash is still earmarked for roads – almost £29 billion – so some priorities never change, regardless of environmental or electoral considerations.
In respect of planning policy and housing matters, there is a brownfield-first pledge reflecting the recent speeches of the current housing minister and a further push on design issues, a hobby horse of the current Secretary of State.
Housing & Development pledges:
- £10 billion Single Housing Infrastructure Fund to help ensure infrastructure is delivered faster. Amend planning rules so that infrastructure comes before people move into new homes
- Continue towards the target of building 300,000 homes a year by 2030
- Protect and enhance the Green Belt and prioritise brownfield development
- Make the planning system simpler for small builders
- Encourage Modern Methods of Construction
- Support self-build home ownership
- Every community to decide its own design standards for new development
- Encourage innovative design and use of technology to make homes more accessible and adaptable
- All new streets to be tree lined and homes environmentally friendly
- Encourage as many people as possible into home ownership
- Renew the Affordable Housing Programme to deliver hundreds of thousands of affordable homes
- A Social Housing White Paper will set out measures to empower tenants and improve the quality of social housing
- A stamp duty surcharge on non-UK resident home buyers
- Encourage a new market in long-term fixed rate mortgages
- Use developer funded planning obligations to provide for discounted homes for purchase in perpetuity for those who cannot afford to buy in their area
- Continue with the Right to Buy and the support for home ownership after Help to Buy ends in 2023
- Continue the reform of Leasehold and bring in a better deal for renters
- Implement the recommendations of the Hackitt Review and the first phase of the Independent Review on Grenfell
- Achieve net-zero carbon by 2050
- Deliver 40GW of offshore wind power by 2030 and enable floating wind farms
- Invest £800 million in a carbon capture and storage cluster by the mid 2020s
- Support gas for hydrogen production and nuclear energy, including fusion
- Retain the moratorium on fracking until the science shows categorically that it can be done safely
- An Oil & Gas sector transformational sector deal to manage the sector’s move to net zero
- £9.2 billion energy efficiency investment for homes, schools and hospitals
- Strict new laws on air quality and setting a date for phasing out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars.
- Retain the existing energy price cap legislation to help protect consumers.
- A new Office for Environmental Protection will establish new legal targets for air quality and other environmental measures.
- £100 billion in additional infrastructure spending on roads, rail and flood defences including £28.8 billion investment in roads
- £5 billion of new public funding for uneconomic broadband connections with gigabit broadband across the country by 2025 and better mobile coverage
- £2 billion to upgrade the entire Further Education college estate and designate 20 Institutes of Technology
- £1 billion to deliver a Rapid Charging point for electric cars within 30 miles of every home
- Invest in a ‘superbus’ network and the UK’s first all-electric bus town
- Funding for City Regions to upgrade bus, tram and train services to match standards in London, including Northern Powerhouse Rail and a Midlands Rail Hub
- Invest in existing rail lines in East Anglia and the South West
- Restoration of many of the closed Beeching rail lines
- Upgrade the A55 in Wales and fund a new West Wales Parkway station
- No new public money for Heathrow’s third runway. Heathrow Airport Limited to demonstrate how they will meet air quality and noise obligations
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
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.
Latest Opinion Polling
Conservatives 42% (up 1% on last week)
Labour 30% (up 1% on last week)
Lib Dems 15% (Unchanged)
Brexit Party 5% (down 2% on last week)
Green Party 2% (down 1% on last week)
Source: Rolling poll tracker in The Guardian