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Have the Conservatives embraced radicalism on housing?

Wednesday 26 April 2017

Have the Conservatives embraced radicalism on housing?

 

It is six months on from the publication of a Housing White Paper.  The document marked a significant shift in Conservative’s approach to housing.  It looked beyond helping first time buyers to own their own homes with a much broader focus on increasing the number of homes across a range of tenures including affordable rented homes.

The White Paper was radical in intent, promising action to fix the ‘broken housing market’ and intervention to fix the root problems rather than just the symptoms of market failure.  Has the Government made much progress in delivering these reform?

A lot has happened since the document was published in February.  Most significantly, the loss of the Government’s parliamentary majority in the June election. This has undoubtedly focused Conservative minds on the role that housing policy played in the rise in support for the Labour Party.

The blow dealt to the Conservative’s after the election has led to some soul searching about how to win the support of younger voters. One possible cause of the failure to secure a majority is the lack of progress on housing policy and a neglect of the issues faced by renters as opposed to homeowners. Recent analysis by Shelter found that some of the key differences between Conservative victory in 2015 and the 2017 result was a narrowing of their lead among those who own their home with a mortgage and a dramatic swing of support towards Labour from those who rent privately.  Amongst private renters, the Labour lead increased from 11 points in 2015 to 23 points in 2017.

Some of this shift is down to the fact that more young people voted in 2017 than 2015 and young people are more likely to be renting in the private sector. That said, the proportion of the electorate living in the private rented sector has been increasing over the years and now accounts for just over 4.5m households – double the 2.3m figure in 2004.  This is 20% of the total number of households so clearly a constituency that can’t be ignored.  Especially as polling suggests that housing is among the top six most important issues for all voters but for private renters it is in the top three of their political priorities.

There are signs that post-election , Downing Street grasps the importance of increasing housing supply to the Conservative Party’s political future even at the expense of local opposition to development.  Having a former Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell, as Chief of Staff in No10 is likely to help matters, but the challenge of party management is even more acute now that rather than having a small majority the Government has no majority.

Will the short term political risk of supporting development win out over the longer term need for the Conservative Party to be seen to be acting to address the housing crisis?  The next few months will be critical in setting the new Government’s direction of travel on this.

 
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