Experts question Tory council house plan
There is no doubt that the country needs more homes, with the housing crisis high on the agenda of all the political parties. Moreover, these new properties will also need to be of a good standard and have plenty of insulation to make sure they are up to scratch, delivering the kind of energy efficiency that can keep energy bills down and reduce household emissions.
While getting commercial builders to construct more homes for sale on the open market or 'affordable' homes is part of the solution, and building for private rent is another, the role councils and housing associations can play has also been an issue.
Having fallen through the 1980s and been at an extremely low level through most of the 1990s and 2000s, council house building has been mooted as a key priority for some. With long queues for local authority housing, parties have recognised the need to build more homes.
While Labour has said at least half the one million new homes it plans to build over the next five years if elected would be council or housing association properties, the Conservative pledge has been more nebulous, with no new money committed, nor any specific target set. Instead, the party wants to negotiate specific deals with individual local authorities and make it easier for councils to buy vacant or under-used land, at lower cost.
That, reports building.co.uk, has not been enough to impress some commentators. In particular, the plan envisages that between ten and 15 years after being built the council homes would become available for sale, with first refusal being given to the current tenants. That concerned Paul Hackett, a director of the Smith Institute think tank. He asked: "What will happen in ten years’ time when these tenants, on £20k a year, can’t find anyone to lend them any money?"
Criticism also came from Richard Kemp, a former Local Government Association housing deputy who is standing for the Liberal Democrats in the election. He commented: "Most councils don’t have housing departments anymore. The whole thing seems highly unlikely to me."
Of course, political opponents will be critical, but having the financial and organisational wherewithal to make the plans work effectively will be vital, otherwise a re-elected Conservative government may find the policy under-achieves. While the lack of any figure for council housing may mean there is no target to miss, the wider goal of building 1.5 million homes by 2022 will be in jeopardy if this piece of the jigsaw goes missing.
The Green manifesto has emphasised a strong commitment to building new social homes, with 100,000 of these a year. The party has also called for more action to bring empty homes back into use, a policy that would require a significant commitment to adding new insulation and waterproofing in such properties where the state of repair they are in makes this necessary. Not that this would be something the party would shirk, having promised to insulate nine million homes, a policy praised by the Federation of Master builders as an example the party that wins the election should follow in office.
The latest manifesto to be launched will be that of the UK Independence Party, which will be unveiled today (May 25th).
With the party having achieved the goal it was formed for of ensuring Britain's exit from the EU, it will need attractive policies in housing and other areas outside its traditional main concerns to ensure it can still attract significant support.