Labour and Conservatives outline separate visions for the future

The Labour and Conservative parties have unveiled the strategies they hope will win them the General Election, with manifestos containing a number of policies that could impact the construction industry.

With housing riding high on the political landscape, Labour’s 86-page document reinforces the Party’s plans to introduce the recommendations of the Lyons Review to reach its goal of 200,000 new homes a year by 2020. These focused heavily on the potential of small and medium sized firms to deliver housing, which Labour hopes to take advantage of through a Help to Build scheme which would make gaining access to finance easier for smaller firms.

Local authorities would be given new ‘use it or lose it’ powers to encourage developers to build on their land, with greater transparency also promoted in regards to the land market. Local authorities would also be able to reduce the number of empty homes by placing higher council tax rates on long-term empty properties.

The Party also plans to build more affordable homes by prioritising capital investment for housing and by reforming the council house financing system.

As announced last week, the Labour Party would use the planned Help to Buy ISAs to create a Future Homes Fund by stipulating that savings be used by banks to build new homes.

Labour’s small business approach to house-building has gained support from certain quarters of the construction industry, such as the Federation of Master Builders (FMB). Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said: “I am particularly pleased to see the importance of small house-builders being recognised – more active SME house-builders will guarantee a healthier and more diverse house-building market. Labour have committed to improving the flow of finance to small house-builders, which is crucial to achieving this.

“To its credit, the manifesto also includes clear commitments on prioritising capital investment and reforming council house financing to enable the building of more social housing, which even with expanding private sector building may still be necessary to meet the 200,000 target”

The Conservative Party’s housing plans depart from those of Labour by focusing primarily on the revival of the Right to Buy scheme, which would be opened to tenants of housing associations as well as those in council and social housing. This extension would allow around 500,000 more people access to discounts on the homes they live in, taking the number of those eligible for the scheme to 1.3m.

The cost of replacing these properties would be met by ‘requiring local authorities to manage their housing assets more efficiently’, with the most expensive properties sold off and replaced. The Tories believe this would raise around œ4.5bn a year, while a œ1bn Brownfield Fund would be established to develop previously used land for additional homes.

The Conservative Party would use a similar approach to ensure housing targets are met in London, with a London Land Commission formed to identify brownfield sites for development before funding for new Housing Zones would be used to potentially deliver another 95,000 new homes.

A Conservative Government would also exte