As the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham draws to a close, during a period of seismic political and economic change, Redwood reflects on the main points of interest from this conference season and some of the implications for the property industry.
Theresa May used her first three months in office to put distance between herself and the policies of the Cameron-Osborne era, with question marks placed over everything from Metro Mayors and the Northern Powerhouse to Hinkley Point. However, many of the messages this week echoed those of previous conferences, with an emphasis on stepping up housebuilding and infrastructure investment. Indeed much of the language remained the same, with both Sajid Javid (the new Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government) and Theresa May stressing they are prepared to make the big and difficult decisions required to tackle NIMBYism and get Britain building. Such assertions continue to be challenged in light of the position of the government’s stance on the National Infrastructure Commission.
On the housing front, notable pledges from Sajid Javid’s speech on Monday included:
£2 billion towards an “Accelerated Construction” scheme, which aims to streamline permissions on publicly-owned ‘brownfield’ land
A £3 billion Home Building Fund for major housing schemes, anticipated to deliver over 25,000 homes by 2020 and 200,000 in the long term
The promise of a ‘Housing White Paper’ to be published later in 2016, including “further significant measures all helping us towards our ambitions of a million new homes by 2020”
Measures to force developers to “release their stranglehold” on land appropriate for development and to reduce land-banking
The Prime Minister also played heavily on housing and infrastructure delivery in a keynote speech that sought to emphasise the Conservatives’ “path towards the new centre ground of British politics”. A reference to airport capacity indicates a decision on Heathrow could arrive sooner than expected and a pledge to inspire “an economic and cultural revival of all of our great regional cities” suggests the devolution agenda remains a priority.
The property industry will take some comfort from the fact that, despite the dominance of the Brexit debate in the political narrative and the attendant animosity and uncertainty, core growth and infrastructure issues remain high on the agenda. Whether the new government’s fighting talk can deliver tangible results is a different matter – a point reinforced by the Local Government Association’s statement on Monday which said that further progress is required to tackle a growing backlog of stalled developments.
The trials and tribulations of Labour continue (at least according to the opinion polls). Any suggestion that Jeremy Corbyn’s recently increased mandate might pave the way to a raft of policy announcements proved incorrect, as headlines were dominated by last-ditch changes to the Shadow Defence Secretary’s speech on Trident and ill-received comments by a senior activist regarding Holocaust Memorial Day.
Look a little deeper, however, and the green shoots of a housing and infrastructure policy are emerging. Shadow Housing Minister Teresa Pearce said Labour would seek to build over a million new homes, with half as social housing, within the next Parliament. Pledges were also made to boost construction skills; to deliver infrastructure through the National Investment Bank and regional development banks; and to bring forward new rules to protect tenants, including the implementation of longer term tenancies.
Sadiq Khan’s speech emphasised the importance of local government to a party whose electoral influence is increasingly reserved to dominant positions on local councils in major cities including Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol and Newcastle. It is also expected to lead the way in the new city regions thanks to figures such as Andy Burnham.
The devolution agenda seemingly represents one of the few opportunities for Labour to gain ground against the Conservatives and, as one of Labour’s few success stories in recent months, the new Mayor of London’s comments were welcomed by many within the party. Stark differences and tensions between the Corbyn and Khan camps nevertheless highlight that internal challenges facing the Labour party are likely to persist.
Best of the rest?
The SNP continues to ride high and to consider the whys and wherefores of a second independence referendum. For the smaller parties – including the Lib Dems, Greens and UKIP (the latter having lost its latest leader after a mere 18 days), the present ‘First Past the Post’ electoral system in parliamentary elections continues to present a massive barrier. Recent experiences of Brexit and the changing face of the Labour Party point to the importance of taking nothing for granted however.
All eyes will now be on the Autumn Statement on 23 November, when further major announcements are expected.
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