Joseph Daniels

Housing manifesto for the future: Where political parties got it right — and wrong



Policy announcements come in quick succession during a general election and promises to build hundreds of thousands more homes feature prominently in manifestos once again.

However, a lack of clarity over how targets will be met raises questions over how realistic the main parties’ plans are.

We have analysed their most prominent pledges to see what could have the biggest impact on solving the UK housing crisis.

Building targets

When it comes to housing pledges, the major parties continue to reach for head-turning numbers. Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats intend to build 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s, although Labour has not stated an overall target. The Lib Dems spell out a vision for 100,000 affordable homes annually by 2024, with Labour going even further with pledges for 150,000 council and social homes per year by the end of the parliament.  

The reality is that there is still a long way to go to reach 300,000 new homes being built every year. In 2018, 222,000 homes were added to England’s housing stock, but this includes converted properties and houses added through change of use. 

It is easy to pledge to build thousands of homes, but what we lack is a detailed blueprint showing how this will happen. Whatever strategies have been in place for the past few decades, they have not delivered enough homes. There is now so much public scepticism about manifesto pledges, particularly when it comes to housebuilding, that these manifestos needed more detail on delivery. 

Green policies

All new homes promised by the major parties would be built with the environment in mind. The Lib Dems have lofty ambitions, proposing all homes should meet zero-carbon standards by 2021 and by 2025 conform to the Passivhaus standard, which means they are so thermally efficient they require only minimal heating.

The Tories and Labour are both also planning to use zero carbon homes to meet 2050’s carbon emission targets, with Labour aspiring to create a new non-carbon homes standard for all new homes. It is likely that whoever wins, the Future Homes Standard — which is currently being consulted on — will remain a central plank of housing policy development up to its proposed 2025 implementation date.  

Ambitious aspirations for greener homes may make it harder for parties to meet housebuilding targets, as it will eat into developers’ margins and they may, in turn, reduce their pipeline to manage risk. However, this should not be a reason to backtrack on environmental efforts in this time of climate crisis. 

We have seen from Etopia Corby — our own modern methods of construction (MMC) development in Northamptonshire — that there is now huge demand for sustainable homes, and the public at large will support any plans to build them. 

Green policies are crucial, but we’d like to see the parties offer more insights and impact assessments on how sustainable requirements will affect the ability of developers to build at sufficient volume.  

Other pledges 

Building more sustainable homes is the backbone of the housing manifestos, but other ideas have made it in too. 

Labour wants a flourishing construction sector, and training is absolutely critical since it is estimated that 168,500 construction jobs will be created up to 2023. Meanwhile, its sovereign land tax to buy cheaper land to unlock new homes could help with one of the causes of periodic declines in housebuilding. 

The Conservatives have pledged an investment fund for roads, schools and GP surgeries so everything a community needs is in place before housing. To achieve this, it should concentrate on setting out policies to promote and follow through on earlier proposals for new garden villages. These communities, built outside of existing towns, cannot be created one house at a time. Instead, they require enough homes and infrastructure in place on day one to create enough of a settlement to attract people to live there. 

These developments can go hand in hand with environmentally friendly infrastructure, with electric car charging points and incentives to ride-share. 

The Tories are the only party to mention MMC, which is the only way homes can be delivered at the speed the country needs. Bricks-and-mortar construction has been failing in this area for far too long, and it is time for change. 

We would urge the other major parties to throw their weight more explicitly behind MMC just as the Conservatives have done — using support, investment and garden villages as vehicles to deliver an MMC revolution in housing. Housing targets only begin to look achievable if MMC is part of the formula for delivery.


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