How do the parties look from the point of view of a volume housebuilder? Here Redrow boss Paul Pedley looks at the three main parties’ proposals
Now that the real election war has commenced, it’s time to take a serious look at the parties’ commitment to developing forward-thinking housing policy. On the whole, I have to applaud both the Labour and Conservative parties, but I am less certain about the Liberal Democrats, whom I shall come to later.
Starting with the present government, I think it’s important to ask what they have brought to the housing market after the best part of a decade in power. And I think there are two main positives.
First, Gordon Brown has brought economic stability, which is the key to a sustainable housing market. Brown deserves great credit for his very brave and very early decision to give the Bank of England independence. This has proved absolutely correct, having depoliticised interest rates. The housing market has adjusted well to a stable interest rate regime that does not alter according to the whims of politicians.
Second, Labour has recognised the importance of the housing market to the health of the UK economy. This was again sparked by the Treasury, and meant that Kate Barker’s review of the housing market received wider media coverage than could have been expected in the past.
Some have been critical of how slowly Barker’s recommendations have been progressed – the results of the review’s consultation will not come out until the autumn. Undoubtedly the government have been quiet on the recommendations of late, but I don’t think that Barker has been shelved. Rather, the government has taken the sensible step of thinking the recommendations through properly rather than rushing policy for short-term political gain. It is set on getting those 1 million extra houses in the South-east, with a strong focus on affordability.
Here’s an example: taxation. A planning gain supplement was one of Barker’s suggestions, and I can understand why a government would want to pursue it. The reason it hasn’t been introduced yet is because, after consultation with the industry, the government has decided that it is extremely difficult to have a one-size-fits-all strategy. It’s far different dealing with a piece of greenfield land compared with an inner-city brownfield site in need of decontamination. It would be illogical to have the same tax regime for both. Labour should be applauded for not fast-tracking potentially dangerous policy.
The Conservatives have always been considered the party of the homeowner, but now Labour may be more pro-ownership than they are.
The Conservatives have always been considered the party of the homeowner, but now Labour may be more pro-ownership than they are
So that is a challenge for the Conservatives and one that I was fairly convinced that they were failing to meet – upon launching a housing mini-manifesto last year, spokesperson John Hayes made comments about his party’s opposition to “cementing over the South-east”.
Policy needs to be broader than that to satisfy people’s diverse needs. Some people do covet that-four bedroom detached house in a leafy suburb, and why should we deny them that? Conservative policy was far too narrowly defined back then, but I’m glad to say that over the past
12 months it has moved to such an extent that Hayes now clearly recognises the value of appropriate development. Today he speaks of housing being built in sustainable locations, while recognising the need to protect relevant and valued green space.
This is, again, a result of speaking to the industry. I have met Hayes face-to-face on three occasions in the past year, including once over dinner. Similarly, I have had three or four meeting with housing minister Keith Hill over the same period. Which brings me to the Lib Dems. I’ve seen incredibly little from them and if they want to be a credible voice of opposition then they need to clearly state their policies and engage with the industry.
At least, though, the two parties most likely to win the election seem to be committed to the industry and that, hopefully, augurs well for the future.