Last week, SP Broadway attended the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, where among the continuing debate over a Brexit deal, housing featured high on the agenda – with Theresa May describing the housing crisis as “the biggest domestic policy challenge of our generation” during her keynote speech.
Prime Minister Theresa May
The headline housing policy change at Conference came during Theresa May’s address, when she announced the Government would be scrapping the cap on local authorities’ borrowing to build new homes, a move the Local Government Association have described as “fantastic”.
Mrs May said:
“Solving the housing crisis is the biggest domestic policy challenge of our generation. It doesn’t make sense to stop councils from playing their part in solving it. So, today, I can announce that we are scrapping that cap. We will help you get on the housing ladder – and we will build the homes this country needs.”
Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government James Brokenshire
In his address to the main conference hall, James Brokenshire reiterated his Department’s commitment to “building the homes we need” and described housing as the Prime Minister’s “domestic policy priority”. The key messages in his speech included:
- The creation of a ‘New Homes Ombudsman’ to address the issue of build-quality.
- Renewing the Government’s commitment to deliver 300,000 homes per year by the mid-2020s.
- Renewing his support for the “success” of Help-to-Buy.
- Encouraging a “plan-led” approach to development.
- A commitment to “build up rather than out”, and to be smarter on how we use land in order to protect the Green Belt.
Minister for Housing and Planning Kit Malthouse
In his speech, Kit Malthouse praised the Government’s record on delivering “350,000 planning permissions in 12 months”, and the revised NPPF which he said would allow the “acceleration of delivery.” Some of the key points in Mr Malthouse’s speech were:
- The new NPPF will “take the squabbles out” of the planning process through publishing S106 agreements and standardising viability assessments.
- Local Plans are to include higher design standards, which he said would increase acceptability of new developments in communities.
- Mr Malthouse said he would address “gaming of the system” and the “power of developers”.
- A pledge to support areas of strong growth – such as the Oxford-Cambridge Scientific and Economic Growth Corridor.
Housing at the Conservative Party Conference was very high on the agenda, with Housing Minister Kit Malthouse speaking at no less than 16 events –drily introducing himself as “Kit Malthouse, your Housing Minister for this week.” Whilst the Government’s key message on housing (their commitment to building 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s) remains the same, Theresa May’s removal of the borrowing cap for local authorities is big news, and goes against the grain of Conservative policy in recent years and decades.
The announcement has been almost universally well-received by the likes of Shelter, the Local Government Association, and to an extent the Labour Party – who have accused the Conservative’s of claiming one of their flagship housing policies. Whilst no timeline has been offered on when the cap removal will come into force, it will surely have a major impact on the types and tenures of homes being developed in the coming years.