From pre-election party pledges to the big issues waiting in the wings, here’s my pick of the construction-related priorities:
- Right to buy for housing association tenants: One of the most contentious pledges made by the Conservatives in the run up to the general election was the commitment to extend Right to Buy to 1.3m housing association homes in England. The proposal provoked uproar among housing associations, and immediately after the election National Housing Federation chief executive David Orr called the plan “an unacceptable intrusion into the affairs of private, independent social enterprises and a waste of resources”. The government has promised a housing bill to introduce the proposal in the first 100 days of a new parliament, but housing associations could consider the possibility of a legal challenge to the move.
- New homes for first-time buyers: The Conservatives pledged to build 200,000 homes, and make these available to first-time buyers aged under 40 at 20% discount. This builds on initiatives like NewBuy and Help to Buy. The Conservatives and the homebuilders have enjoyed generally cordial relations, and Home Builders Federation executive chairman Stewart Baseley welcomed the new government with the words, “It is many years since a government came to power with such a clear focus on housing and a strong mandate to implement policies to boost supply”.
- Devolved housebuilding: England, Scotland and Wales look set to become increasingly different housing nations following the Scottish National Party’s election success. Already contrasting housing policies are emerging, with Scotland notably ending Right to Buy next year while the Conservative government looks to extend it in England. Chartered Institute of Housing deputy chief executive Gavin Smart says, “At the very least, the results in Scotland suggest that devolution will continue on its current trajectory, and that housing policy across the UK is likely to diverge even further.”
- More free schools: Some 500 new free schools are planned by 2020. At the same time, the Conservative manifesto set out plans to allow ‘good’ schools to expand, a plan that will be tested by Weald of Kent grammar school in Tonbridge which hopes to open an annexe in Sevenoaks. Schools secretary Nicky Morgan remains in post.
- The big airport question: The Davies Commission’s report on where airport expansion should take place are due this summer. Sir Howard Davies’ findings could prove discomforting for the government, with London Mayor and new Uxbridge MP Boris Johnson having said that he is against Heathrow expansion.
- And those garden cities?: Prior to the general election all of the political parties expressed enthusiasm for garden cities as a way of increasing housebuilding numbers. The Conservative manifesto stressed the importance of local buy-in for any proposals saying that the government would support garden cities “in places where communities want them”. Prior to the election, Town and Country Planning Association chief executive Kate Henderson voiced concern that extending Right to Buy to housing association tenants could raise questions about future delivery of mixed communities in such garden cities.