Liberal Democrat manifesto 2015

The Liberal Democrat manifesto, entitled ‘Stronger Economy. Fairer Society. Opportunity for Everyone’, was published on Wednesday.

The ‘Affordable homes for all’ chapter of the manifesto opens with a re-affirmation of the Liberal Democrat pledge to increase the rate of house building to 300,000 a year’.

The party commits to delivering this increase by:

  • Building ‘at least ten’ new Garden Cities in England ‘where there is local support’ and encouraging local authorities to build ‘garden villages’ of their own.
  • Building ‘up to five’ major new settlements along ‘a Garden Cities Railway between Oxford and Cambridge’.
  • Compulsory Purchase Orders to be strengthened to assist with land assembly for major housing projects.
  • Enabling government agencies to ‘directly commission homes for sale and rent’.
  • Establishing a new government-backed Housing Investment Bank to ‘help attract finance for major house building projects’.

Whilst the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is to be retained the manifesto does propose some tweaking of local authority plan making, with 15 year housing need plans being shaped by a strengthened Duty to Cooperate ‘to help authorities with insufficient space within the local authority boundary to meet housing demand to grow’.

The NPPF’s commitment to localism is also to be bolstered by a number of localism plus policies:

  • The creation of a community right to appeal in cases ‘where planning decisions go against the approved local plan, or a Local Plan that is emerging and has undergone substantive consultation’.
  • Removal of the applicant right to appeal ‘against planning decisions that are in line with the local plan’.
  • End permitted development rights for converting offices to residential.
  • Increase the proportion of homes going to local people as opposed to overseas investors through new ‘planning conditions to ensure homes are occupied’.  

At first glance the Liberal Democrat approach to housing provision could be equated to that spelled out in the Labour manifesto – a headline commitment to build a target number of new homes a year accompanied by a commitment to further extend the localism agenda.

However the Liberal Democrats offer includes an extra element; fleshed out commitments to build major new settlements in specified locations and detailed proposals to increase government involvement in housing delivery. These are bold but potentially locally unpopular policies (remember how sharply Labour’s vote share fell in 2010 in areas where eco-villages had been proposed) – could a major party in alliance with the Liberal Democrats use these measures to boost housing delivery whilst pinning the political toxicity on the party that authored them?

This encapsulates the challenges facing a minor party prepared to prop up a larger one; how do you get credit for getting your policies through into legalisation while avoiding reputational harm being foisted on you by the majority partner? It’s a challenge that all the minor parties will give close attention to when considering potential parliamentary alliances after 7 May.

Click here to view the Liberal Democrat Party manifesto in its entirety.

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