For the first time in a decade (perhaps more) housing and planning are top of the political agenda.

Now that the dust has settled on Party Conference season, Redwood have prepared a run down on how each Party plans to tackle the housing crisis.

Labour – housing for the many, not the few

Seemingly channelling Liz Truss, Keir Starmer is preparing to do battle with vested interests to deliver 1.5 million homes over 5 years.

The Labour Party Leader has been talking tough on planning during the summer – pledging to do battle with NIMBYS, Green Belt supporters and even his own Labour MPs if they resist local development.

Promising to “get real and work with developers”, Labour has set out an ambition to build the next generation of new towns with supporting infrastructure hardwired into them.

Labour continues to stand by a “brownfield first” approach but states that Green Belt and greenfield land have their part to play; particularly low-grade land which happens to be in the Green Belt.

Importantly, most of these announcements were made either by Keir Starmer or by Rachel Reeves (shadow Chancellor) and not, as may be expected, by Angela Rayner who oversees the levelling up portfolio.

Doing so, the Party Leadership have signalled a clear intention to make housing delivery a key battleground in the upcoming election.

Conservatives – A new start?

Leaving aside the pros and cons of the decision, Rishi Sunak’s scrapping of HS2’s northern leg and the repudiation of 13 years of Conservative governance is a risky path to take.

Beyond the shock announcement on HS2, there were some statements on housing policy by Michael Gove (himself a fixture in the cabinet over the last 13 years), and Housing Minister Rachel Maclean.

The different announcements are set out below, but many of them are pre-existing policies which have been trailed before.

Gove has pledged to resist Labour’s plans to build on the Green Belt and attacked Sadiq Khan’s housebuilding record – warning to step in himself if the London Mayor fails to deliver more homes. Rachel Maclean also pledged to continue to intervene in local authorities lacking Local Plans.

Gove also announced that the Government would have brought forward legislation to deal with the issues caused by nutrient neutrality, however that pledge has now been dropped.

Interestingly, Michael Gove has recognised that the Government’s plans for new housing around Cambridge cannot be met by building on brownfield sites alone.

Liberal Democrats – True democracy

From a housing perspective, the Liberal Democrat conference must be the most dramatic.

A motion by the Party leadership to remove housing targets (should they come to power) was voted down by the Young Liberals – a group representing young members and students who put forward and passed an amendment to recommit the Party to build 380,000 homes a year in England.

The argument revealed ideological and generational splits within the Party on the housing crisis and the power of local councillors to make decision around housing supply in their areas.

Why does this matter? Well, the Liberal Democrats may very well find themselves king makers in Westminster post-election, perhaps as part of a Labour-Lib Dem coalition. Also, like the Green Party, the Lib Dems are very influential in local politics, with nearly 3,000 councillors in the UK.

The Greens and SNP – Marching by the beat of their own drum

Both the Greens (in England and Wales) and the SNP’s housing and planning policy announcements were heavily influenced by their overall environmental aims.

The Green Party conference concentrated on empowering renters, pledging to give local authorities the power to impose rent controls on the private rent sector. They also announced a £145 billion investment over ten years to help existing homeowners retrofit their properties. Finally, they pledged to increase the stock of social housing by 150,000 a year – but stated these would come from bringing empty homes back into use, not by building anymore.  The SNP, who like the Conservatives have the power to enact policy, announced that they are bringing in the ban on gas boilers in new homes a year ahead of a similar ban in England.

So, what?

A host of lessons could be drawn from these points, but what is crystal-clear is that for the first time in years, the housing crisis (which has itself been going on for years) is now taking centre stage.

The number of previously exclusively Tory think tanks attending the Labour conference (Onward, Bright Blue and the Countryside Alliance are notable examples) indicates that they think the Labour electoral manifesto (including on planning) is still emerging – and therefore influenceable. What is also likely is that Labour have made a calculated political decision to support building on the Green Belt, at the expense of voters in seats which are unlikely to see a Labour MP represent them.

It would be wrong to characterise the Conservative Party as being of one mind. There are plenty of Tory MPs who recognise that the consistent failure to hit housing targets (and indeed the removal of such targets following the Villiers-Seeley amendment to the new Levelling-up and Regeneration Act) is leading to a demographic timebomb for the Party. Liz Truss’ plans for investment zones have not (much like the former PM) gone away and the conservative-leaning Adam Smith Institute’s latest report places the blame for the housing crisis partly on the Green Belt. In the wake of the local election results and successive by-election defeats, the Conservatives have a tricky set of interests to reconcile.