Housing, Planning, Infrastructure and Devolution headlines from the Conservative Party Conference 4th-7th October
In case you were not aware, from Sunday to Wednesday of this week (4th to 7th of October), just over ten miles up the road from our Heald Green office, Manchester was looking a little bluer than normal and for once this was not purely down to rain or an impassioned representation from Manchester City Football Club! In a packed agenda, the Conservative Party Conference 2015 took residency at Manchester Central, a venue dubbed as ‘an award winning, globally renowned venue in the heart of one of the world’s most vibrant cities’.
Policy pledges have been batted about left, right and centre at this year's Conservative Party Conference and with housing and the economy high up on the agenda, there's been a wealth of discussions that could have wide-ranging ramifications for planning and development in the UK.
In this guide, we round-up some of the headlines that could influence these areas in the coming years and offer some context as to how they might practically play out.
Closing the conference in Manchester yesterday (October 7th), Prime Minister David Cameron made no bones about tackling Britain's growing housing crisis head-on. In blockbuster movie fashion, he coined it ‘the one big piece of unfinished business in our economy’. He continued to promise a 'dramatic shift' in the country's housing policy by outlining plans to drastically change affordable housing targets:
"Those old rules which said to developers: you can build on this site, but only if you build affordable homes for rent… we’re replacing them with new rule… you can build here, and those affordable homes can be available to buy," said Cameron.
He underlined the importance of home ownership in the UK and hailed the contribution of opportunities like Right to Buy and extending this to housing association tenants.
Cameron went on to call for a 'national crusade' of home building, claiming that this would entail more lending from banks, land releases from the government and overall planning reform.
This comes off the back of previous policy pledges, which include targeting brownfield sites for new homes and increasing the number of affordable houses made available as a result of Section 106 agreements.
Finger on the pulse
Brandon Lewis, Minister of State for Housing and Planning, also made a strong showing at the conference – promoting the planning agenda at several fringe events.
He suggested planning departments should be the "heartbeat" of local councils and highlighted the need for more resourcing and better cooperation between local authorities, promoting that already underpinned within the policy including the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
Lewis also praised the work of Neighbourhood Plans in getting local communities involved in the provision of new homes and realising the benefits of developing their areas.
Back from the Brink
Earlier in the proceedings of the Conservative Party Conference, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Greg Clark offered his opinions on housing in the UK, claiming the coalition government had brought the situation 'back from the brink'.
"Never forget that in the last quarter of 2008, this country was less than 20,000 homes away from having stopped building all together," he told the conference.
"By reforming the planning system, we now have over 240,000 receiving planning permission. Through Help to Buy, the number of first time buyers has not only increased, it has doubled. We’re building more affordable homes now than for twenty years and we built more council homes in five years than the last Labour government built in 13 years."
However, Clark warned that the work was far from over and claimed that the party sought to close the 'housing deficit' that had been inherited from Labour. As with Cameron, he set out several plans including to extend the role of Right to Buy to housing association tenants.
"For every home that is bought by a tenant, we will ensure that a new one is built, doing the vital work of increasing the homes that we want. Expanding the mission of housing associations to become organisations that promote homeownership too and extending the opportunity of ownership to millions of people who have never had it before," Clark said.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who many commentators have pegged has having prime ministerial ambitions, was also keen to trumpet the successes of Tory housing policy, claiming that more new homes were now being built in the capital than at any point in the past three decades.
He also hailed the 'biggest programme of infrastructure since Queen Victoria' – pointing to tube upgrades, Crossrail, and the regeneration of London taking place from 'Old Oak to Enfield'.
Johnson went on to express optimism for the prospects of Crossrail 2, suggesting the scheme would be vital to builders in London while simultaneously rubbishing plans for an additional runway at Heathrow and promoting the need for a hub airport to cater for the UK's fast-growing economy. Does this sound like the prospect of ‘Boris Island’ will make resurgence?
As well as echoing his commitment to home ownership (‘we’ve had enough of people who own their own homes lecturing others why they can’t own one too’), in his impassioned speech to the conference, Chancellor George Osborne unveiled further plans to spur on devolution to local authorities in the north.
Claiming it would be 'crazy' to hold back the dominance of the capital, Osborne reiterated his plans to create a Northern Powerhouse throughout the cities of the Pennines, as well as connecting up the south-west and promote a 'great' manufacturing revival in the Midlands.
"Successful businesses. Modern high speed transport. Big science investments. Top universities, and the strong leadership that comes with powerful elected mayors. Those are the ingredients of a Northern Powerhouse," he said.
"That is how we deliver prosperity and security for families across the nation. And it is one of my driving missions to do everything I can to build it. Let us choose today to make reducing the gap between north and south, London and the rest, one of the central ambitions of the next Conservative Government."
In a highly-anticipated move, the Chancellor then went on to set out plans to devolve control over business rates to local authorities with elected mayors. This, he claimed, would help to revive local government, which had had its wings clipped by central government over previous decades.
"It's time to face facts. The way this country is run is broken. People feel remote from decisions that affect them. Initiative is suffocated. Our cities held back. There's no incentive to promote local enterprise. It's time we fixed it," Osborne said.
"This is what our plan means. Attract a business, and you attract more money. Regenerate a high street, and you'll reap the benefits. Grow your area, and you'll grow your revenue too."
One of the more publicised moves on the past few days was that the Chancellor announced the creation of a National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) chaired by former Labour peer, Lord Adonis.
‘The Commission will calmly and dispassionately assess the future infrastructure needs of the country and it will hold any government’s feet to the fire if it fails to deliver’ the Chancellor remarked.
We've barely had time to cover all the main talking points at what's proved to be an action-packed conference, so if there's anything you'd like to discuss, or you simply want to share your views – be sure to leave us a comment or get in touch via Twitter. We always love to hear from you.
Images courtesy of: Michael Ashton, World Economic Forum, Richard-G, Marc Falardeau, Mark Harkin, and jojusaram
All images found via flickr