I cannot summon any enthusiasm for this election. It mostly makes me wish I lived in Scotland. But, despite this, I have forced myself to read the three main manifestos so I can summarise them for you all.
Conservatives: To call this underwhelming is to give it undeserved praise. The primary focus is on expanding home ownership through various stupid ideas. The first is to encourage mortgage lenders to offer really long mortgages at fixed (low) rates of interest. It is thought (without any supporting evidence, or reasoning) that this would enable people to become homeowners without needing such large deposits. We also seem to have a revamped “Starter Home” policy, whereby local authorities could use s.106 planning powers to have developers create homes which would have to be sold (and then re-sold and re-re-sold) at sub-market rates (and to key-workers). I’m dubious about the finances of this, but surely the easier way to achieve this result would be to build more local authority housing. However, in an effort to ensure that even fewer social homes are built, the Conservatives will maintain RTB and look into the VRTB schemes to see how they can be extended.
There is a promise to reform and simplify shared ownership, which, depending on the details, might be a good thing. If it is just a rehash of the plans to allow 1% shares to be purchased then it is just stupidity writ large. We also have a promise (the 4th? 5th?) to reform residential leasehold laws and ban new leasehold houses.
In the PRS, we have a plan to abolish “no fault” evictions (presumably s.21, HA 1988) but also strengthen the rights of landlords to recover possession (so, new mandatory grounds?). We also see plans for a “lifetime deposit” scheme, so people can more easily move from one property to another. You know what would be better than that? Building more housing of all tenures so that people didn’t have to move as often.
All in all – 2/10.
Labour: Despite being *very* dubious about the Labour leadership, I confess I like this one a lot more. We have a promise to restore legal aid in early housing and welfare benefits work (the latter is especially welcome – a real case of pointless penny pinching that causes more long-term harm than it ever saves). The bedroom tax (HB reg B13) would be abolished. A £1bn public sector fire safety fund would be established (good, but what about the private leaseholders? That’s the real emergency – look at #Mycladdingscandal on Twitter). There is a promise of a new Ministry of Housing, targets for local authority housebuilding (and scrapping RTB, so as to make this a realistic plan), a new Sovereign Land Trust to acquire land. Permitted development for office blocks to resi flats will end (excellent news for those worried about the proliferation of small, windowless boxes).
In the PRS, we have promises of a national landlord licensing scheme, the end of s.21, HA 1988. Rent caps based on inflation with powers for cities to go further. That last one will be music to the ears of Sadiq Khan (and his former Deputy Mayor for Housing, James Murray, now Labour candidate in Ealing and an excellent addition to Parliament if we’re lucky) who has repeatedly called for such a power. The Right to Rent checks would also go.
My only concern here is that the plans (150,000 social homes per year) are such a huge increase on where we are now that I worry whether we have the necessary capacity in our building trade. It’s a good thing we’re going to be open to skilled foreign nationals coming to help our building trade (err….).But a solid 7/10.
Liberal Democrats: I was begining to come around to the Lib Dems and there are some things in here that are a good idea. But too much of it just feels like a bit of a wet compromise. For example, it says good things about the problems with RTB, but then proposes to let local authorities decide what to do about it at a local level. The problem is that allows some councils to keep flogging off their stock and hoping others pick up the slack. I’m also not sure about the “Rent to Buy” scheme, which sounds just like very slow staircasing for shared ownership leases. What is undoubtedly a good idea is a proposal to create a new duty to provide emergency homelessness TA for anyone who is at risk of rough sleeping (or, surely, who is rough sleeping). My local authority is proudly tweeting at the moment about how it has opened a shelter because it is sub-zero at the moment (but closed it again today because it’s +1 tonight) and I rather feel that is it missing the point. I’d be glad to see this idea adopted.
I’d usually write something caustic now. But it’s just all too depressing.