Housing: Where The Parties Stand

A few weeks ago I complained that the major political parties had almost nothing to say on housing. Now they have said something – a little, not much, but something.

As a result there are now some clear differences between them. But can we believe the promises or do we care as politicians become increasingly discredited by revelations over war, expenses, free trips and lobbying?

THE CONSERVATIVES have five major housing policies. Firstly they will make permanent the ending of stamp duty for first time buyers on homes up to £250,000, introduced in March 2010 by Labour, meaning 90% of first timers will not have to find up to £2,500 tax on their new home. Secondly they will scrap Home Information Packs. TV property guru Kirstie Allsop is advising on possible alternatives to make the process of buying and selling easier.

Thirdly the Tories want to scrap quangos and large-scale regional housing plans, and replace them with more local initiatives including financial incentives for communities that agree to new housing schemes. Fourthly they want to expand ‘self-build’ especially in the countryside. Tory housing spokesman Grant Shapps says councils will conduct annual surveys of families wishing to self-build and must then allocate land at below-market cost to “kick-start this rural housing revolution.”

Finally, ‘good’ council tenants will be given a 10% equity share in their homes as a reward for paying rent on time and being good neighbours. In return, they will have to undertake routine maintenance and pay for minor repairs on their homes.

It is difficult to know whether the measures announced by LABOUR in its pre-election budget (chiefly scrapping stamp duty for first time buyers up to £250,000 from April 2010 part-funded by a 5% duty on homes above £1m from April 2011) will last much beyond election day. Aside from those specific measures, the party says generally it wants to build on what it calls its “impressive decade of housing”.

Just before the election the party allocated £500m for housing associations and developers to build 8,000 affordable homes – just over 3,000 will be for sale through the different shared ownership ‘HomeBuy’ schemes while the rest will be for rent.

The party will also allow local authorities to set up housing firms to build ‘arms length’ council houses and will use quangos like the Homes and Communities Agency to identify publicly-owned land for future housing schemes.

Labour also wants to dramatically improve the eco-credentials of new homes – all will have to be completely zero-carbon by 2016. It will also keep HIPs and retains an outstanding commitment to add the Home Condition Report to the list of elements which must be included in the pack before a home goes on sale.

THE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS' housing policies remain very vague.

They will provide more homes for local people in hard-pressed rural communities by increasing councils’ powers over second homes and promoting schemes for affordable homes. They pledge to build “tens of thousands of affordable houses to rent.”

The party will create so-called SafeStart mortgages that will protect buyers from the threat of negative equity if house prices plunge, and will make it harder for homes to be repossessed if owners have financial difficulties.

Like the Tories, the party will scrap regional housing targets and devolve planning powers to towns and neighbourhoods. Like Labour it pledges to make the UK’s homes “both warmer and more energy efficient, saving both the planet and the money in people’s pockets.”

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