Post-party conference round-up. What does it mean for housing?


Lucy James

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With the party conference season all but over, it is worth taking a look at what the parties of Government and Opposition have said about housing.

Labour

Labour conference was distracted from much policy discussion by the reinstatement of Corbyn as party leader, by an even greater majority.

However, a section of Corbyn's speech focused on housing, damning the record under the Conservatives. Homeownership falling; house building at its lowest level since the 1920s; evictions and homelessness increasing; and the selling off of council homes without replacement. He paints a bleak picture. So what do Labour plan to do about it?
Build a million new homes, with at least half of them council houses.
Control private rents, to ensure they're affordable.

Verdict: Past records are easy to question, but its hard to argue against the remedies Labour have proposed. This is an area of policy where they remain strong and can talk credibly.

Whilst market intervention is a throwback to left wing politics of the past, it taps into growing consumer sentiment that this is simply not a market place that functions, and people across many demographics need real help. Housing stock simply must increase, both state owned and private sector, but Labour are so far from power, its hard to envisage their plans being enacted.

Conservative

Birmingham was dominated by Brexit, so much so that they dedicated a day to it, with the Prime Minister unusually giving two keynote speeches, book-ending the proceedings. On the first day, Theresa May took the opportunity to deliver a timetable for invoking Article 50 - the mechanism by which a member state signals its formal intention to leave the EU. The currency markets reacted with Sterling falling sharply; we can expect many more episodes of macro-economic volatility, which will inevitably impact on people's personal finances, as we continue on this unprecedented journey.

Aside from Europe, there were some interesting noises emerging on housing:
A £3 billion Home Builders Fund for a concerted house-building drive - £2 billion of this will be made available to small building companies with the aim of creating 250,000 new homes; the remaining £1 billion is earmarked for the infrastructure necessary to support this.
A £2 billion fund to help push forward development on brownfield sites - this will be targeted at surplus state-owned land that can be used to fast track house-building projects

Verdict: "Its time to get building" - there seems to be some renewed vigour and real intent here. These new announcements are all underpinned by a change in rhetoric from the Chancellor, Philip Hammond MP, who clearly noted the Government would now borrow to invest, and that the deficit target for this parliament would be dropped. This is a clear departure from the Osborne era.

But we wouldn't hold our breath: the Conservative's manifesto "commitment" of one million new homes by 2020 did seem to get downgraded to a mere "aspiration". Whilst Help to Buy is coming to its natural end and will not be renewed, this has been met with mixed reaction. Designed to help first time buyers get on the property ladder, it is seen as responsible for having increased house prices. The Government will now also focus on the private rental sector too, and not simply the notion of home ownership.

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