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From promises to delivery – making Labour’s housing goals a reality

At Labour Housing Group’s 2024 AGM, Toby Lloyd, formerly Head of Policy at Shelter, and advisor to the May government on housing issues, spoke on how a future Labour Government might achieve its housing goals.

One of Labour’s most significant pledges ahead of the next general election is a promise to build 1.5 million homes over the next parliament. Doing so would go a significant way to tackling the housing crisis, particularly if such a level of construction were maintained in the long term.

However, this will be particularly difficult to do given the spending constraints which the party is also promising to maintain. At the recent Mais lecture, Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves promised to only borrow to invest, and to maintain the Conservatives’ fiscal rule of ensuring that debt was on a track to fall after five years.

Speaking at Labour Housing Group’s 2024 Annual General Meeting, Toby Lloyd presented a roadmap for how this might be achieved. Toby is an independent housing consultant, formerly Head of Policy at Shelter, and advised the May government on housing issues, with previous experience as a policy advisor for local councils, housing associations, developers, and the Mayor of London.

Toby’s presentation covered a number of key themes on how Labour’s housing promises could be delivered while maintaining their fiscal rules:

Making the existing system work:

The 1.5 million home goal is ambitious – the last time that this was achieved in a five-year period was from 1968 – 1973. While tinkering with elements such as the planning system may be helpful, relying solely on this, or on any other tweak will get in the way of the need to deliver – a Labour Government will need to hit the ground running and work with the system as it is, at the same time as initiating more fundamental reform.

Ensuring committed money is spent:

Eye-catching sums of money committed for unlocking or building new housing have recently been returned to the Treasury. These include two thirds of the £4.2bn earmarked for the Housing Infrastructure Fund, and £255m allocated to building affordable homes.  

Part of the reason that these funds have not been spent is inflexibility on the Treasury’s part – rules set by them in how the money can be spent mean that inflation and viability changes can quickly scupper a project. Adding flexibility into how these funds are spent will not only unlock this money, but will be crucial to ensure that future pots does not face the same issues.

Encouraging diversity in housebuilding:

Part of accepting the reality of the existing situation is realising that private sector developers will continue to deliver the overwhelming majority of homes for the foreseeable future. However, with the market as weak as it currently is and land values likely to fall, there is less incentive for developers to build, rather than to withhold their land supply.

In the short run there will be opportunities to acquire stalled private schemes and convert them into affordable homes, while in the longer term decent funding social housebuilding will be a key to restoring diversity to the sector, so that councils, housing associations, small builders and community groups can all contribute. Not only will this be crucial for providing homes for those facing the most acute housing need and driving up quality, it also will help make the whole development system less vulnerable to market cycles and so raise overall housing supply.

Strategic planning:

While tinkering with the planning system will do limited good in the short term, reasserting the proactive state role in shaping the development system will be crucial to achieving the 1.5 million homes goal.

Key to this will be reinvigorating spatial planning, which the state has taken largely abandoned over the last 14 years. Implementing a national spatial plan which clearly identifies the locations for strategic growth, and delivering this in partnership with regional and local stakeholders, would give a greater degree of purpose to the planning system.

This will be particularly important for the delivery of New Towns, best devised as extensions to existing settlements such as the new Cambridge Urban Quarter. In order to deliver these, Development Corporations with Compulsory Purchase powers will be needed to ensure that land is acquired for a fair price.

Improving existing stock:

While building new homes is key, the number of existing dwellings which fail to meet quality and safety standards is a crisis in itself.

Funding is needed for a ‘Decent Homes Programme 2’, to upgrade existing stock to current energy efficiency and safety standards. This will have significant savings down the line from lower energy bills, improved health outcomes for residents, and a decrease in major safety risks.

However, the UK’s definition of fiscal debt is unusual in including the debt of public corporations, including councils borrowing to invest in housing stock. Changing the measure of public debt used for fiscal rules to exclude this ‘public corporation’ borrowing would remove incentives for the Treasury and local authorities to ignore this pressing need.

Q&A:

After his presentation, Toby answered several questions from Labour Housing Group members on a variety of topics including siloed thinking in government, ending homelessness, ensuring that homes with planning permission are built, and empty homes.

We are grateful to Toby for speaking at the AGM, and look forward to working with him further.

One reply on “From promises to delivery – making Labour’s housing goals a reality”

Given that the upfront carbon emitted in the building of 1.5 million houses would exceed the carbon budget for the whole economy (new settlements and peripheral development in green belts would make it worse) would it not be more sensible to look at subdividing existing under-occupied houses?
http://dantheplan.blogspot.com/2017/08/migrating-to-problematic-future.html
Failure to acknowledge the issue of embodied carbon now could lead to another Labour u-turn in the run up to the election.

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