As predicted, housing has become a political football as manifestos are unveiled in the countdown to the General Election on May 7 – with the issue galloping up voters’ list of concerns according to pollster Ipsos Mori.
The Conservative’s flagship housing announcement may have hit the media headlines – but are they in danger of scoring an own goal with their pledge to extend the Thatcherite Right to Buy scheme to 1.3 million housing association tenants?
It’s not just housing associations themselves that have criticised the idea. While it may have suited the ‘loads of money’ mentality of the 1980s, many commentators believe the plan is out of sync at a time when we face a potential housing time bomb, escalating private rents and a generation of young people unable to get on the property ladder.
Even the usually loyal Daily Telegraph proclaims that “Extending the right to buy is economically illiterate and morally wrong”. The paper asks: “At a time of housing crisis, when 1.8 million families languish on council waiting lists, how can David Cameron justify a massive £5.8 billion sell-off?”
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and global property firm Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) have also attacked the policy, warning that it would not address the chronic housing shortage. Adam Challis, head of residential research at JLL, said: “This is exactly the kind of short-termist thinking that the country’s 4.7m households in social housing don’t need, not to mention the same number again of aspiring owners in private renting.”
Party manifesto housebuilding plans are looking like a political version of ‘Play Your Cards Right’ as they go higher and lower than their rivals. Labour has promised to build 200,000 houses a year by 2020, while the Conservatives have said they’ll build the same number – but by 2017. Labour’s housebuilding plans include a pledge to use the previous government’s first time buyers ISAs to fund 125,000 new homes.
Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats want to build 300,000 homes as soon as possible – and create 10 new garden cities. UKIP is topping that with an aim to build one million new homes on brownfield sites by 2025 while the Green Party promises 500,000 new social rented houses and the end of right to buy.
Whatever the election outcome – it will undoubtedly impact on a UK housing market that is broken and in dire need of fixing. A cynic I may be – but I don’t expect any of the above promises to be kept. If, as predicted, we have a hung parliament or another coalition, party manifestos will probably not be worth the paper they’re written on.
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