Brian Berry of FMB looks at the political manoeuvrings on housing as we approach the General Election buildup
Looking back at my article from this time last year, it’s astonishing how far we’ve come, and what has changed. At this point in 2022, I was welcoming in the Truss administration, in the hope that her ambitious plans and bold ideas would lead to something positive. We all know how that turned out. But here we are again, in the latter stages of the year with everyone gearing up for a General Election, likely to be a year or so from now.
So, we are unlikely to see any firm action in the coming year on housing, with the most significant changes coming the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, which at the time of writing is in the Lords, facing opposition, particularly on environmental grounds. But while the politicians debate, industry is just after a little bit of certainty, and a modicum of ambition so we can get spades in the ground.
REVISITING THE RESHUFFLES
We had heard rumblings that a reshuffle was on the cards ahead of party conferences and in early September we saw two very different approaches. The Prime Minister, committed
to a very small changing of the guard, appointing a close ally to the Energy Department, in the wake of the departing Ben Wallace MP from defence. The industry breathed a collective sigh of relief when the scale of the reshuffle was understood. We can only cope with so many new Ministers in a matter of years, and six housing Ministers in one year was quite enough!
Labour on the other hand prepared for an election. Keir Starmer lined up his closest allies, pushing the Party back to centre ground that defined the Blair and Brown era. Of note for our industry was of course the Shadow Deputy Prime Minister, among other titles, Angela Rayner MP taking top spot in the Shadow levelling Up, Housing and Communities Team. It’s still early days, but within her first week she set out her plans for nutrient neutrality to counter the Government’s measures in this area. This will have many developers nervous, even if well intentioned – thousands of homes are being held up because of the current rules.
WHO WILL WIN THE POLITICAL RACE ON HOUSING IN 2024?
So, who will win the housing race and capture the imagination of the public? Housing is an easy win; it will create jobs, boost productivity and enable vital growth – which is the driving ambition for both Starmer and Sunak. On top of this, there is an entire generation crying out for new homes as they’re stuck in cramped rental accommodation, shelling out thousands to landlords, which could be going to mortgage repayments.
I’ve set out in this column numerous times what the Government, and by extension the Conservative Party, can do to help the nation’s smaller house builders, they are part of the solution to delivering more homes and need to be helped to do so. In the run up to the Election let’s see if the traditional Conservative voting bloc in the South of England sways the Conservatives away from housing.
But on the other side, the Labour Party has ambitious plans for social housing, this is certainly needed, and if done well, could unlock opportunities for SME builders. Social housing can provide a long-term pipeline of work, which is especially helpful for bottom lines when the market dips. But there must be a focus on the private sector, there simply aren’t enough homes and this will only exacerbate issues with productivity and growth. It would also leave the younger generations even further alienated from political decision makers.
So, both of the main parties have time to set out their plans. With money tight and fiscal planning from both the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt and his Labour counterpart Rachel Reeves aligning with this reality, housing offers a very good return on investment for a Government of any colour. The private sector will pick up the tab, and only minimal financial input is required from public coffers to achieve that vital growth. Hopefully, both sides will see, and seize, this opportunity in next year’s Election campaign.