There is much to like about the Conservatives’ push on housebuilding but it leaves renters out in the cold

jeremy blackburn

Birmingham has certainly felt more like a conference in the run up to an election – though the Conservative leadership will not be happy about the drama that defections to UKIP and social media photos have created – than Labour’s conference last week.

The prime minister took to Evan Davis’ first BBC Newsnight to talk about unifying the party; not a good sign when one of a party conference’s main role is to energise the rank and file for the campaigning task ahead.

Meanwhile the task of various ministerial announcements was to lay out an exciting agenda for the next the next parliament. And while not all of the announcements would grab the headlines, it was unashamedly a push for what a Conservative government would do.

Forget the Rose Garden days of a responsible partnership with Nick Clegg, it’s time to get the gloves off and get down to business.

The difficulty of five years under your belt though is that your existing policies inevitably create a framework that restricts you – and that’s without having already much less cash to spend. And the renewed commitment at conference to deficit reduction and public spending cuts did mean that there wasn’t any lavishing of capital spending. If that fantasy cash, happens we’ll have to wait until the Budget in 2015.

This unabashed drive towards owner occupation leaves some questions

What we got from both Cameron and Osborne was a further push for the “property owning democracy” delivered through the major developers through 100,000 new units on brownfield sites and linked to Help to Buy (while removing section 106 and zero carbon requirements). There was also the decision to make Help to Buy permanent and more powers for the Bank of England to ensure that the housing market doesn’t imperil financial stability – or the recovery for that matter.

Meanwhile Eric Pickles announced that a new Rent to Buy scheme would follow this. This unabashed drive towards owner occupation leaves some questions about how to build the other types of tenures that our population needs.

Both the chancellor and the transport secretary talked about northern cities and infrastructure. But no new announcements there.

For the moment its business as usual, but we can expect that to change if there are new garden cities before the election, or if a commitment to further high speed rail lines is made.

Freeing up cities and Local Enterprise Partnerships to drive growth needs to see them connected to a truly integrated transport system that helps us export and compete on the world stage.

Meanwhile, much more locally, the fringes and receptions have been humming. Parliamentarians put more focus on party electioneering events but there were still plenty fringes focused on business and the economy – and strikingly housing. That says it all.

Both in the conference hall and in the fringes this is building up to an election about housebuilding in a way that many of us will never have seen before.

Jeremy Blackburn is head of UK policy at RICS