Viewpoint - 26/09/2013

Ed Milliband's Party Conference speech falls short of the mark

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Encouraging boost for new housing levels

The delivery of new housing is one of the most topical issues in politics at the moment, so it is no surprise that Ed Miliband addressed it in his speech at the Labour Party Conference. While promising to more than double the number of new homes being built per year is an encouraging message, it is unfortunately not clear how they propose to boost house building back to levels last seen at the height of the property boom.

Increasing debt finance is crucial

The fact of the matter is that if people can’t raise the deposit and obtain the finance required to purchase new homes then house builders won’t build them. Identifying ways of increasing realistic debt finance opportunities for potential home owners is a more pressing issue than identifying areas of the countryside for new development.

Developers punished once again

In addition to this, Labour is again pushing punitive measures against house builders for hoarding land for development. At what point do you decide a developer is hoarding land? Many of the larger house builders (who deliver the majority of our much needed housing) require a pipeline of land to ensure a smooth delivery of new homes over time and provide stability to their shareholders and employees. The complexities of negotiating land deals and obtaining planning permissions (as well as meeting environmental and sustainability requirements) means that it’s not as simple as just identifying a site.

Affluent towns will benefit at the expense of deprived areas

Granting towns the ability to grow beyond their boundaries even in the face of opposition from neighbouring authorities, will only serve to encourage discord between communities and increase fears over the loss of Green Belt land.  This will only be advantageous for councils who have a significant land bank, in addition to the support of developers with the capital to back the schemes, which is a rare combination. Those councils with land in higher value and more attractive areas are likely to benefit whereas more deprived areas will lag further behind.

Plans will promote negative feeling among residents

The proposed Rebuilding Britain Commission will identify sites for new towns and garden cities, and will take power completely out of the hands of local authorities. While in many ways this is a good thing, as localism has allowed perfectly viable developments to be vetoed by council constituents, it runs the risk of leaving voters feeling victimised by the new developments plans. With no say in the future of their towns - or even their regions - there is likely to be a lot of negative feeling around developments even before the first spade has hit the ground.

A more coherent, strategic approach is required

With banks still reluctant to lend and developers struggling to get the capital by other means, releasing land with no guarantee of development fails to address the issue. A more coherent, strategic approach is required; quick fix policy attempts are likely to create more harm than good. By focusing on land supply issues rather than the underlying problem, Labour shows that it is more focused on identifying easy targets and getting votes than seriously addressing a crippling shortfall in housing numbers.


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