Modest welcome for Help to Buy relaunch but Tories fail to impress with lack of planning reform

The return of Help to Buy was not enough to offset the absence of planning reform in the Conservative manifesto in the eyes of many across the built environment sector. 

Launching the policy prospectus in a speech today, Rishi Sunak pledged to build 1.6 million homes over the term of the parliament – equivalent to 320,000 homes per year. 


Source: Conservative Party

Rishi Sunak announcing his election manifesto on Tuesday

But the promise was greeted with skepticism by many, who asked how he could meet this goal – higher than the current 300,000 target – without significant supply side changes. 

Paul Rickard, managing director of housing developer Pocket Living, welcomed the demand-side commitments to re-introduce Help to Buy and increase the stamp duty threshold for first time buyers, but added that he was “hoping for a suite of bolder and more ambitious policies” on supply. 

Richard Beresford, chief executive of the National Federation of Builders (NFB), said it was “frustrating” that the manifesto stuck to recent changes to planning policy which he said had caused new build completions to drop.

“We therefore have to question how 1.6million homes can be delivered, when previous more housing positive policy environments only delivered 835,680 homes over the previous five years.” 

Kate Henderson, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said it was “encouraging” to see the government commit to renew the Affordable Homes Programme and raise its housebuilding ambitions to 1.6 million homes across the next parliament  

However, she said there needed to be “a more focused commitment to social housing” and called for a fully funded long-term plan that would “dramatically” increase the number of social homes built each year. 

Muyiwa Oki, president of the RIBA, said: “This manifesto contains some welcome commitments such as prioritising brownfield development, supporting community housing schemes, and delivering homes for older people, but it lacks a clear strategy to upgrade our shamefully energy inefficient housing stock.

“While appreciating the need for a more efficient planning system, it fails to mention the lack of adequate expert resource – critical to delivering high-quality, sustainable homes in places people want to live.”

Sav Patel, associate director at planning consultant Lanpro Services, noted the ambition of the Conservative’s headline figure for housebuilding, but said the mechanisms set out to achieve this were “unbalanced”, with too much focus on urban developments. 

“Bringing forward this type of development is often complex and lengthy,” he said. “There is no encouragement for higher delivery rates in the rest of the country. 

“Meanwhile, the Conservatives are offering a ‘cast-iron’ protection for the Green Belt, which stands in contrast to Labour’s proposed review of Green Belt policy.” 

However, he did welcome the abolition of nutrient neutrality and new section 106 exceptions for small builders. 

Karen Charles, executive director at Boyer, agreed that there was “a need and demand for homes in less urban locations” and said if the prime minister wanted the increase in housebuilding stated in the manifesto, then his government would “relax some planning restrictions”. 

Terry Woodley, managing director of development finance at lender Shawbrook, said the Tories’ plans to increase development on brownfield sites “could be an effective piece to the puzzle” of solving the housing crisis, but said it was “not the sole solution” and warned that it would “come with its challenges”. 

“Though our research shows that 77% of developers agree that location is still the biggest driver of property sales and brownfield sites allow for attractive urban living options, the sites can often pose a unique set of challenges and may not be as attractive to developers compared to other options,” he said.  

>> Read more: Rishi Sunak pledges to revive Help To Buy at Conservative manifesto launch

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“Whilst this could be a positive change, any government considering these steps must ensure that they’re taking a multi-pronged approach to adequately tackling housing issues if we are to see real progress over the next 12 months and beyond.” 

Rachael Williamson, head of policy and external affairs at the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: ”We welcome a commitment to raise housebuilding ambitions, renew the affordable homes programme and review the quality of temporary accommodation. But we need to see a long-term plan for housing, with clear targets that are focussed on delivering both more and better homes. “

According to Rico Wojtulewicz, head of policy at the House Builders Assocaition, the Tory prospectus was too limited even in its vision for cities, questioning how much brownfield development could achieve if it was based on ‘gentle density’, as set out in the manifesto. 

“Development built to a maximum of ten storeys, the gentle density definition, will pass the housing crisis on to the next generation as too few homes will be built, with mixed developments made broadly unviable,” he said.  

“The NFB’s ‘community density’ approach ensures that in major cities, residential and non-residential needs are made viable in a well-designed and thoughtfully planned development.” 

At-a-glance: Housing policies in the Conservative manifesto

  • Make permanent the increase to the threshold at which first-time buyers pay Stamp Duty to £425,000 from £300,000
  • Launch a new Help to Buy scheme to provide first-time buyers with an equity loan of up to 20% towards the cost of a new build home
  • Implement a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ expectation of social housing landlords for anti-social behaviour. They will be expected to evict tenants whose behaviour is disruptive to neighbours and the local community.
  • Deliver 1.6 million well-designed homes over the course of the parliament “in the right places”
  • Renew the affordable homes programme
  • Retain a “cast-iron commitment to protect the Green Belt”
  • Abolish ‘nutrient neutrality’ rules to immediately unlock the building of 100,000 new homes with developers legally required to pay a one-off mitigation fee
  • Require councils to set aside land for smaller builders them and lift Section 106 burdens on smaller sites
  • Create locally-led urban development corporations in partnership with the private sector and institutional investors to develop brownfield regeneration sites
  • Complete leasehold reform by capping ground rents at £250, reducing them to peppercorn over time
  • Pass a Renters Reform Bill to fully abolish Section 21 and strengthen other grounds for landlords to evict private tenants guilty of anti-social behaviour
  • Speed up infrastructure projects and reduce costs by allowing quicker changes to consented projects, ensuring national policy statements are regularly updated and ensuring statutory consultees are focused on improving projects in line with clearer objectives.
  • Amend the law to make it difficult for people to bring judicial reviews against planned projects that don’t have “merit”

Beyond this, he said there was “much to welcome in the manifesto”, particularly on apprenticeships, while his boss Beresford noted that tax cuts for the self-employed would benefit the sector, given almost 50% of its labour force fall into the category. 

But Wojtulewicz concluded that much of what was included in the manifesto was “already on the table”. 

“Small builders will likely conclude that if the Conservatives were to win the next election, they would experience another parliamentary term of warm words but no action,” he said. 

Some criticised the scope of the Tories’ demand-side offer, with Spencer McCarthy, chief executive of Churchill Retirement Living, saying the manifesto showed “a complete lack of joined-up thinking”. 

He said if the government was “serious about helping people get on and up the ladder it would cut Stamp Duty across the board,” rather than just from first-time buyers. 

“By removing the barriers for all people who want or need to move, particularly older people looking to downsize, the Conservatives could help first time buyers and growing families.” 

Instead, McCarthy said, they had “taken the easy options” and would see price inflation at the first-time buyer end of the market and stagnation in other parts.