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‘Recovery will be the key battleground’

Housing remains high on the agenda at the Conservative conference in Manchester, reports Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) chief executive Grainia Long – but key differences between the parties are beginning to open up.

“Last week in Brighton Ed Miliband pledged to build 200,000 homes a year if Labour are elected in 2015. “Following David Cameron’s announcement on Help to Buy over the weekend, it seems there is clear blue water between the two parties on housing, with the Conservatives focusing on demand and Labour putting the emphasis on supply.

“Yesterday the Chancellor George Osborne confirmed that the second phase of the Help to Buy scheme is to be launched this week, some three months earlier than originally planned.  Using the government balance sheet to support housing market activity can be useful, but as I noted yesterday the scheme must be very carefully designed to make sure it is not simply boosting demand without having the same effect on supply.  Bringing the launch forward only strengthens the concerns expressed by CIH and many others around its design.  And will it prompt new house building at the rate we need? I think that’s highly unlikely.

“I think the big question for the Conservatives is how they want to use the planning system to build more homes, and whether they are ready for more debate on land use and dealing with the tension between localism and growth.

“George Osborne’s speech also saw him commit to a budget surplus in the next parliament, which will mean more pressure on the welfare budget.  Interestingly, energy minister Michael Fallon refused to commit to a continuation of universal benefits for pensioners, a space that’s worth watching very carefully indeed.  I suspect any movement on that would come after after the election however!

“Planning minister Nick Boles and welfare reform minister Lord Freud both referred to the need for housing associations to be more fleet of foot in managing their assets. Clearly this debate is going to run and run – and it will be a key issue at our Homes 2013 conference in November.

“Today we await an announcement from communities secretary Eric Pickles on the private rented sector – he’s expected to unveil a ‘tenants’ charter’ which will put pressure on landlords to offer longer tenancies.

“Finally, the big issue remains the economic recovery. The debate on whether it will be a recovery for all will be the key battleground for the parties in the coming months.”

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