It was pointed out in a recent Linkedin exchange that the first Minister to concede that we are in a full blown housing crisis was Nick Boles MP as recently as October 2013 and at the start of July my passle looked at the potential Housing policies of Prince Charles. 

The Labour party also have published their policy paper "Land for the Many" in the last Quarter and it seems timely to see where that could take us.  

In it they promote

  • Transparency, in that all information about land ownership and planning should be published as open data.  The HMLR new Local Land Charges service is in any event slowly taking shape and would see a standardised £15 charge for a local (planning) search.  The missing piece in this is still the patchwork of unregistered land across the country.   Labour would though have the Land Registry and Ordnance Survey return to being executive agencies of government.  Now whilst it might be nice to add a few less disbursements to a client’s bill one has to query how this service will be funded long term?
  • Land price stabilisation - the problem of house price inflation is, at root, a problem of residential land price inflation, this is also a goal to stabilise land prices.  Whilst the restriction on buying second homes in some coastal areas can be seen to have had negative effects, St Ives in Cornwall for instance, which saw both a drop in new build housing and a knock on increase of prices of existing properties in St Ives as a result.   This policy seems to be about influencing the banking sector as to where they lend most and on what people can therefore speculate on.  As such I recall the old adage: “Be careful what you wish for: you might not like it if you get it.  Who knows what the law of unintended consequences could give the property market if the banking sector is unduly influenced?  If the banks cannot lend in the areas of high reward why would they continue to lend in the areas of lesser reward?
  • Ending the Buy-to-let frenzy.  With a number of the private rental proposals already taken forward by the Conservative government there is also an ambitious social housing building programme.  #Watch this space, I guess?
  • Progressive and efficient tax reform.  Council tax to be payable by owners, not tenants.  I may be slightly biased as a home owner myself but surely some of the nasty stories of “us” v “them” between purchasers and social tenants and the advent of the “poor doors” debate (see Nicola's article here) will only be exacerbated by the idea of the tax which should pay for local services only being paid by those who own their property.  Allbeit the idea that a higher tax for second homes and non UK residents could fund the long term goal of removing SDLT completely should form a boost for getting people on the housing ladder in the first instance, how that is applied to those relocating and the practicalities of life will need careful consideration.

Development and planning.  

Because, let's face it, that's why we here...

  • New Public Development Corporations should be given the power to purchase, develop and sell land in the public interest for the creation of new towns and other communities. Their construction contracts would give priority to local small and medium-sized firms, ensuring that builders compete on quality rather than on their ability to navigate the speculative land market.  The Development Corporations should be able to obtain long-term, low-cost loans from Labour’s proposed Regional Development Banks. 
  • The Land Compensation Act is to be reformed to enable development corporations and other public authorities to acquire land at prices closer to its current use value, rather than its potential future residential value. Local authorities should also be empowered to lead local development. They should set housing targets based on the type, size and tenure that local people need and can afford.  The proverbial jury is still out on this point.  Whilst there may be some unfairness to the untrained eye where some game playing is engaged and truly undeveloped agricultural land receives a higher CPO compensation due to its development potential (allocation in a Plan for instance) to high a risk here would put at risk the whole strategic land sector and the Options, Conditional Contracts and PPA's we are used to dealing in.
  • The planning system should be reformed to address imbalances of power, which currently allow deep-pocketed developers excessive influence over local decision making.  Among the measures recommended are permitting local authorities to set and vary planning fees: for example, increasing them for applications raised more than once, or when advice or policy has been ignored.  Again the law of unintended consequences may raise it’s head here 
    • the “free-go” has always been an opportunity to resolve problems raised by a refusal. 
    • the idea that advice or policy has been ignored seeing a rise in fee presupposes that the LPA is right every time.  The arbiter of who is right in a planning application should fall to the inspector or the Courts who can give costs awards for unreasonable behaviour.  The LPA should not have a first instance ability to bring a developer back in line by punitively hitting their pockets and balance sheets.  If the developer was blatantly ignoring policy or making a second application unreasonably this is already grounds for costs at an appeal. and a further problem for the development arm.
  • We propose that a Labour government should remove permitted development rights that allow office and agricultural buildings to be turned into housing without full permission.  Whilst statistics show the PD change have given well to Housing supply this is in the only complete way to control the standards of housing coming forward through this route and elements of this are broadly supported cross party - at least in terms of upping the space standards achieved in new homes.
  • A formal review of participation in planning, whose purpose is to ensure that communities are better able to co-create local policies and developments.  We propose introducing a form of jury service for plan-making stages to facilitate broader participation.  We seek to enhance the opportunities for communities to design and co-create whole developments and housing estates.  It is questionable how such a planning-jury would work and how it would apply to the less popular forms of development that remain essential infrastructure.