As the country prepares for its third General Election in just over four years this week, DevComms managing director Rob Allaway has studied the manifestos of the three main UK-wide parties and the possible effects on the Thames Valley.
Putting Brexit to one side, what impact will the parties’ manifesto pledges have on the Thames Valley property sector?
In terms of planning for housing growth, there is a general but perhaps paradoxical pledge from all the parties to both protect the Green Belt while, at the same time, increase housebuilding. All the parties also acknowledge and address the climate emergency, as have most local authorities in the Thames Valley.
There is also a focus on infrastructure investment (particularly public transport) outside London and the south east. This suggests that the Thames Valley may be lower down the pecking order for Government investment, whoever occupies Number 10.
The Tories maintain their pledge to deliver 300,000 homes per year by the mid-2020s, but put a focus on infrastructure with a promise to amend planning rules to ensure new roads and GP and school places are delivered before new housing developments are occupied.
In terms of affordable housing, they promise to use developer contributions to discount homes by a third in perpetuity for local people seeking to buy, with an emphasis on key workers. There will also be a stamp duty surcharge on non-UK residential buyers.
Heathrow’s third runway gets a brief mention with a clear statement that no further public money will be invested and that Heathrow needs to prove it can meet noise and air quality tests.
This lukewarm attitude reflects Boris Johnson’s personal reservations about the scheme.
Similarly, judgement is reserved on HS2 with a pledge to consider the Oakervee Review findings and work with Midlands and northern leaders ‘to decide the optimal outcome’.
There does appear to be more support for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, encouraging other regions to create similar growth bodies, but, whilst the Expressway is not mentioned in the manifesto, the Transport Secretary has announced a ‘priority review’ of the project. Somewhat mixed messages.
On taxation and the environment, corporation tax would remain at 19 per cent (rather than the mooted drop to 17 per cent), with the 2050 net carbon zero target maintained and a £1 billion investment in a national electric vehicle charging network. There is also an aspiration to lower business rates.
Labour puts social and council housing at the heart of its growth agenda. The Tories are accused of having ‘given a free hand to commercial property developers’, so a new Department for Housing is proposed with changes to Homes England to make it a ‘more accountable housing agency’.
A total of 150,000 council and social homes a year are proposed, with 100,000 of these for social rent. Councils would be given a new duty to plan and build these homes. The current ‘bogus’ definition of affordable housing would be replaced with one linked to local incomes. Labour would abolish the conversion of office units to residential under Permitted Development.
A new English Sovereign Housing Trust would be created with powers to buy land more cheaply for low cost housing. Public land would be used to build homes, not ‘sold to the highest bidder’. Developers would also face ‘use it or lose it’ taxes on stalled housing schemes.
There is no mention of the third runway at Heathrow or the Ox-Cam Arc, even in Labour’s separate South East Manifesto, but there is a commitment to ‘completing the full HS2 route to Scotland’.
Labour also pledges to end regeneration projects that do not have local community support, ending what it describes as ‘social cleansing’ – a radical promise indeed.
Under Labour, corporation tax would rise to 28 per cent and they would review the option of a land value tax as an alternative to business rates.
The Lib Dems, like the Conservatives, pledge 300,000 new homes per year, but with 100,000 of these for social rent. They also propose to allow local authorities to increase council tax by up to 500 per cent for second homes purchased and a stamp duty surcharge on overseas residents buying property.
Corporation tax would be raised to 20 per cent to partially fund a £130bn capital infrastructure budget.
The Lib Dems give a clear commitment to supporting HS2, Crossrail 2 and East-West Rail, which they consider positive for climate change, but oppose any expansion of Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted, again for environmental reasons.
The strong commitments from all the parties to new homes should create opportunities for the Thames Valley although questions hang over infrastructure commitments in the region.
Also, some of the more radical proposals would have significant implications for development economics. Let’s hope for some more clarity in the wake of Thursday’s election.