More homes, more planning powers: the Liberal Democrats’ housing manifesto

By Alia Khan, Consultant

The set-piece housing announcement in the Liberal Democrats’ Election Manifesto was a pledge to build 300,000 new homes each year – the current official target for England – with at least 100,000 homes for social rent.

But for those of us with an interest in development, it wasn’t the only announcement to catch the eye.

The party has always had a strong local ethos where it has been successful, and there was a pledge to “put the voices of local people at the heart of planning”, with a requirement that “the climate and environmental emergency” is factored into all council planning decisions.

Meanwhile, reforms to planning rules will ensure developers “promote sustainable transport and land use” and the party says they will give Local Green Space designation the force of law.

Developers might also be required to increase their contributions – for affordable homes, schools, surgeries, roads and so on – under further plans to reform planning to ensure developers are required to provide essential local infrastructure”.

Meanwhile, permitted development rights that allow offices to be converted to housing without a full planning application would be scrapped, and all new homes will have to be built to a zero-carbon standard by 2021.

To further reduce emissions (and cut energy bills and end fuel poverty by 2025) free retrofits will be available for low-income homes, and a new energy-saving homes scheme will be piloted. The party also says it will graduate stamp duty land tax by the energy rating of the property and reduce VAT on home insulation.

There were a number of other housing commitments, including to publish a cross-Whitehall plan to end all forms of homelessness, allow local authorities to increase council tax by up to 500% where homes are being bought as second homes, and introduce a stamp duty surcharge on overseas homebuyers.

Renters weren’t forgotten either, with plans announced to legislate for longer-term tenancies, set limits on annual rent increases and help young people into the private rental market through a new Help to Rent scheme offering tenancy deposit loans for all first-time renters under 30.

Fighting Brexit is obviously the party’s top priority, but it’s clear they haven’t been ignoring the housing debate. If the party achieves the success it is looking for, they have plenty to be getting on with.