There was plenty of diagnosis of the problems (planning system, monopoly developers, lack of funding etc) but less on the solutions and how to manage the short and long-term tensions, though social housing was referenced by all as part of the answer. With more than 130,000 children in temporary accommodation and homelessness on the rise I was left wondering if government is focussed enough on who we’re failing while we continue to debate it. In the words of Brandon Lewis: “If we’re not delivering a way of seeing a roof over your head then what are we here for?” Of course, political instability hasn’t helped with this, with 15 housing ministers over the past 13 years.
In the final session I attended housing minister Rachel Maclean made clear that housing is fundamental to economic and social progress and that we need to just “build more bloody houses”. Let’s hope the current government can work together to follow through on this – it needs more than the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to make it happen.
The Labour Party Conference
The Labour conference was a different experience altogether, with housing and planning front and centre despite not being included as one of Labour’s five missions. The trilogy of speeches from Keir Starmer, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves and shadow housing secretary Angela Rayner recognised the central role that housing plays in providing a foundation for life. This was reinforced by messaging from the shadow ministerial team in the fringe sessions – Matthew Pennycook and Mike Amesbury.
Keir Starmer’s pledge to get Britain building again with 1.5 million homes over the next parliament was well received. The housing crisis needs bold and ambitious action to address it, so at CIH we really welcome the commitment to tackle it head-on with a housing recovery plan which reflects many of the asks in our housing manifesto.
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An effective planning system, backed with the right resources and skills strategy, is key to ensuring we have the right homes in the right places that people can afford – this should mean much more social housing. Angela Rayner committed Labour to delivering “the biggest boost in affordable and social housing in a generation”. A focus on devolution should help ensure targeted and community-centred investment which should in turn help to build consensus (tackling some of the NIMBY vs YIMBY debate). With the right infrastructure behind it a new towns programme should help address the huge deficit in truly affordable housing supply for this generation and the next, whilst supporting sustainable and holistic development.
Everyone should have the right to a secure, decent and affordable home so it was good to see a clear focus on renters as well as the next generation of homeowners, with a commitment to rental and leasehold reform as well as support for first time buyers. (The government has also indicated action on the private rented sector and leasehold).
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There was consensus at both conferences that housing should provide a foundation from which to build your life. But it was great to see it given the prominence it deserves by Labour. As always, the challenge is in the detail of implementation – and we need cross-party consensus to really crack this. And money. As deputy mayor for housing Tom Copley said, “you can’t build subsidised housing without subsidy”.
With the starting gun fired on the next election, let’s continue to ensure housing remains firmly on the political agenda, and that these promises are delivered.
Rachael Williamson is the Chartered Institute of Housing’s head of policy and external affairs.
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