‘Housing for the many’ is the name of Labour’s much-anticipated (for us, anyway) green paper on housing that was released in April.
Affordability is front and centre of Labour’s offer. The term has been abused by the Conservatives, they say, whose concept of affordable rent as 80% of market rents they reckon is bonkers. So genuinely affordable homes, and lots of them, is the answer. Labour have pledged (get the Ed Stone out) to build 1 million of them over 10 years – 100,000 a year. Nice round numbers. These will be delivered through the ‘biggest council housebuilding programme in 30 years’. Social rent will be set against local incomes and property prices, living rent will never be more than a third of average local household incomes, and the same for mortgages to buy ‘FirstBuy’ homes. Pretty radical stuff.
One of the most interesting planning-y bits of Labour’s offer is the proposed creation of the English Sovereign Trust, designed to address what Labour see as prohibitively high land costs. The Trust would be able to purchase land for the state at closer to the pre-planning permission value, denying landowners hefty gains. This would be a massive change and highly controversial, but as Conservative MP Nick Boles said, ‘there aren’t that many landowners and they are not a huge voting block’!
None of this will be achievable however, without a commitment to build capacity back up again in local councils. A point well made by Andrew Gwynne MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, at our thought leadership breakfast on Thursday, organised with Public Policy Projects and chaired by our very own Chris Roberts.
Andrew eloquently set out Labour’s ambitions for local government. He thinks his is the best job in the Shadow Cabinet because councils should be at the heart of ensuring government makes citizens healthier, happier and better off, starting with making sure construction companies can all do what they want to do: build houses. We agree, Andrew.