We’ll deliver if developers don’t, said Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron as he launched the party’s election manifesto, pledging 300,000 new government-built homes a year, and measures to allow councils to build more social housing.
The manifesto was launched yesterday evening, with housing one of the party’s top billing commitments, pledging both homes for sale and for rent.
“If developers won’t deliver the homes Britain needs, we will,” said Farron. “The government will become a house-builder itself, bringing in the contractors to actually construct the homes and then selling them into the market. The only way to get a grip on the housing crisis is by firm government action. The market is broken and has failed to deliver.”
The manifesto’s housing pledges include:
· Directly build homes to fill the gap left by the market, to help reach the house-building target of 300,000 homes a year by the end of the Parliament, through a government commissioning programme to build homes for sale and rent
· Set up a new government-backed Housing and Infrastructure Development Bank to provide long-term capital for major new settlements and house building projects
· Enable local authorities to penalise excessive land-banking when builders with planning permission have failed to build after three years
· Allow councils to levy up to 200% Council Tax on empty homes including second homes and ‘buy to leave empty’ investments from overseas
· Ensure 500,000 “affordable”, energy-efficient homes are built over five years
· Scrap exemptions on smaller housing development schemes from their obligation to provide affordable homes
· Lift the borrowing cap on local authorities to build more social homes for rent
· Increase borrowing capacity of housing associations through increased access to finance
“This is personal for me,” Farron added. “As a teenager, I got into politics after I watched a repeat of Cathy Come Home, a heartbreaking film about a couple who were made homeless, and I joined the housing charity Shelter as a result. As an MP, I have seen first-hand the misery caused by people not having a proper home.
“Getting a place of my own and then making a home for my family was one of the proudest moments of my life. But for many people in the next generation, it is virtually impossible to get on the housing ladder. They deserve a helping hand.
“If we have to penalise developers for land-banking and let local authorities hike up council tax on empty or un-built homes, so be it. We will set up a Housing and Infrastructure Development Bank to provide long-term capital for new settlements.”
Responding to the manifesto, Terrie Alafat CBE, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH), said: “We need a swift and significant increase in the number of new homes being built to get to grips with our national housing crisis, so it’s encouraging to see the Liberal Democrats setting an ambitious target for house building and proposing to directly commission new homes. Historically we have only built anywhere near the number of homes we need when the public sector has been directly involved in building.
“But it’s not just about building more homes, it’s about building more affordable homes for people on lower incomes. We need more homes across the spectrum – for home ownership, for private and social rent, and for shared ownership – but we believe more investment is urgently needed in affordable homes to rent. So the Liberal Democrats’ commitment to help councils and housing associations build more homes is welcome.
“Matching these ambitious plans with successful delivery will require a long-term plan combined with significant investment, so we would be interested to see more detail on how these commitments would be funded.”
On the issue of homelessness, Alafat added: “We have called on the next government to make sure that councils have the resources they need to tackle rising levels of homelessness, and to make sure that welfare policies are not obstructing housing policies designed to make sure people can access a decent home at a price they can afford. It’s therefore encouraging to see the Liberal Democrats making a number of commitments on homelessness and welfare, including increasing support for homelessness prevention, emergency accommodation and supported housing, reversing cuts to housing benefit for 18-21-year-olds, scrapping the bedroom tax and increasing Local Housing Allowance in line with average rents.”
David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation (NHF), said the manifesto shows “real confidence” in housing associations’ ambitions to deliver new homes.
“We welcome the focus on supply,” he added. “Housing associations already deliver tens of thousands of new homes for rent and sale each year and have an ambition to do much more. We estimate that £3bn of investment would support the sector to deliver up to 100,000 new affordable homes – alongside other homes for market rent and market sale.
“Housing associations already do lots to help people locked out of the housing market with schemes like shared ownership. The sector would look forward to working with the Liberal Democrats to develop the Rent to Own product further to ensure it works for both tenants and housing associations.”
“We also support the move to reverse the abolition of housing benefit for 18 to 21 year olds. This will help ensure young people on low incomes are better able to meet their housing costs and give housing associations the confidence to keep offering this much needed accommodation.”