Quality as well as quantity in housing manifesto pledges
The last week has been a fun one for political nerds, as the formal launches of the various party manifestos took place. Amid a wide range of areas where the policy programmes on offer will be markedly different, one theme was common: the need to construct more and better homes.
Indeed, just as there are many who are unhappy at not being able to get on the housing ladder or having to pay high rent due to the shortages of supply, there are others who have managed to get a home, but are unhappy with it; for many, the home is too small, while others will shiver in the cold because of poor insulation or suffer from damp because the waterproofing work has not been up to scratch, among a myriad of problems.
The juxtaposition of the need to build more homes but also better homes was a theme picked up by the Conservative manifesto. Having presided over housing policy as the senior party in a coalition for five years and then on its own for the last two, much of its policy approach is a continuation of measures already in place, including new measures announced in its white paper in February. This includes a reiteration of the target of building a million new homes between 2015 and 2020, a pledge that is retained along with the additional construction of 500,000 more properties by the end of 2022.
Of course, there is nothing new about wanting to build more homes. Labour has promised a million more in the next parliament, of which at least half will be council houses or housing association properties. The Liberal Democrats have pledged 300,000 a year, including "at least ten" new garden cities in England.
However, the rush to build more homes has clearly caused concerns that quality is being sacrificed for quantity. The Conservative manifesto said: "For a country boasting the finest architects and planners in the world, this is unacceptable".
It proposed a slightly atavistic approach, by using tried-and-trusting forms of housing such as mansion blocks, news and terraced streets to construct high-density but good quality homes.
Quality has also been an issue for Labour. Its manifesto included a proposal to introduce a new ministry of housing, which would oversee regulatory matters such as construction standards and housing size. In particular, the party said it wants to crack down on "rabbit hutch" construction of inadequately small homes.
In pledging to build new garden cities, the Liberal Democrats are focusing heavily on developing new homes with high levels of energy efficiency in spacious communities. Of course, garden cities are designed to produce exactly this outcome, since they were pioneered by Ebenezer Howard in the 19th century as an alternative to the cramped and squalid conditions seen in London and other big cities.
Labour are also proposing 'new towns' as a means of "preventing urban sprawl", which may amount in practical terms to much the same thing as the Liberal Democrats. With the Conservatives having supported new garden cities such as Ebbsfleet and new, smaller scale garden towns, it may be that to a large extent the parties are singing from the same hymn sheet: One of more homes, new towns to live in and a higher quality of home. It just remains now to see how all this is worked out in practice when the election winners - expected by most to be the Conservatives - come to put their plans into effect.