What does the General Election 2017 mean for UK housing?

Jenny Riddell sets out what the snap general election means for the housing sector and which policies to look out for in party manifestos.

For the first time in 40 years, the UK is now gearing up for a snap election. At the time of writing, MPs were expected to vote to back PM Theresa May’s call for an early election, so we will all be hitting the polls again on 8 June – three years earlier than expected.

May told us just a few months ago – repeatedly – that she wouldn’t be calling for a snap election. She insisted that the country needs a period of stability and focus, and time to get on with the job in hand.

But her Easter break, and the fresh Snowdonian air, has changed her mind.

Perhaps, while mulling over her 20-point lead in the polls – the largest gap since she became prime minister – she’s seen that now’s the time to secure a majority, receive a legitimate personal mandate as PM, and pursue her chosen Brexit agenda. With it, she can finally shake off UKIP and her own party rebels, and put to bed calls from the ‘remainers’ for a second referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.

Take a look at our election timetable which gives an overview of what to expect in the coming weeks.

Election timetable:

18 April – PM calls for an early election

19 April – MPs vote on election, under the rules of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, at least two-thirds of MPs must vote in favour of an election

21-27 April – Purdah begins, parliament dissolved and short campaign begins, date tbc

End of April – Manifestos launched

8 June – Polls open

9 June – Majority party forms government. If no overall majority formed, negotiations to form government

The polls are strongly in May’s favour – so should we expect a Tory landslide?

No. This election will be as much a ‘second referendum on the EU’, as much as it is leadership contest between May and the other party leaders.

While nationally, the Conservatives go into this election as the clear favourites t0 retain and even strengthen their hold on power, we need sensible caution. 48% of Conservative voters voted remain at the Brexit referendum – suggesting that displaced Conservative remainers could undermine May’s support at the polls.

But that doesn’t necessarily equate to more votes for Labour. Party dis-unity, and a lack of clarity of the Party’s position on the EU makes it very unlikely that Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, will be able to make the gains he needs to form a government.

For the Liberal Democrats, this could create a real opportunity to recover some lost ground. The party is widely recognised as the most mainstream pro-EU party in the UK, and the most likely to offer a second referendum – or a real alternative – on EU membership. Expect it to pick up a number of seats from the nine it holds at present – likely at the expense of the Conservatives and Labour.

While a Conservative victory with a larger majority than May’s current 17 is by far the most likely outcome, it is worth remembering what the pollsters said before the 2010 and 2015 elections, the 2016 EU referendum, and the USA’s 2016 election. All of these results defied national polls, and created unexpected results. Proceed with caution.

Practicalities – how does this affect my day-to- day work?

For those involved in stakeholder engagement, the main point to note is that all non-essential MP meetings will cease during purdah, and resume once the new government forms.

Purdah must start at least six weeks before an election, and once parliament has been dissolved. The latest it can start is 27 April, though sources in central government are suggesting it could start as early as this week.

If you have a meeting scheduled with a constituency MP, minister, or shadow minister, make contact to postpone or reschedule the meeting. Local council meetings are not affected.

After the election, we’ll likely see a re-shuffle of ministers in government, and a fresh leadership race in the opposition ranks.

What will the key policies be?

Usually, manifestos are worked up during a process that takes over 12 months, and involves stakeholders, policy and marketing gurus, and party members.

This time round, the snap timings mean no parties will have the luxury of creating a bells and whistles manifesto document. Instead, they’ll likely be light on key details – and repeat many of the key themes, arguments and language that we’ve seen emerging from each of the parties over the past few months.

One thing we can expect to dominate is Brexit. It’s the main political issue of the moment, and for many voters – it’s the only issue.

Beyond Brexit, May is likely to pitch a vision for UK financial stability, and the role the UK will play in global security, and strong and decisive leadership.

For Labour, its strongest pitch will be around defending the NHS, highlighting the high cost of living, and battling the housing crisis.

Generally, housing will be less of a priority for each of the parties than it was in 2015 – when it featured as a top three priority. But it will still be top 10, and expect parties to outline how they’ll tackle the housing crisis.

We don’t yet know the detail – but we’ve got our suspicions on what it will include. See the table below for a summary of what housing policies we think will feature.

ConservativeLabourLib Dems
Given the priority of Brexit over and above all policies – housing is unlikely to figure prominently. We’re likely therefore to see the recent housing white paper (Feb, 2017) used as the basis for the party’s housing manifesto commitments. Commitments are likely to include:

– Local Councils to receive more powers. “Local Plans” to be the focus, and local areas are likely to be expected produce a “realistic” plan and review it every five years. Like the 2010 manifesto, May is already looking at powers to help councils build more homes too, although the detail is yet to emerge as to how this will be done.

– Diversifying the house building market. The government is hoping to help more SME builders and others into the housebuilding market by utilising the £3bn Home Building Fund. The government is looking to diversify the market after pointing out that currently 10 companies build around 60% of new homes. This helps the Conservative dogma on supporting small businesses, and local community economies.

– Build more affordable rent homes. A clear shift away from the Osborne-Cameron ethos, May is more supportive of affordable rents, and has set out support for affordable rent tenures.

– Homeownership. Support for homeownership is likely to continue– across a range of affordable products, including Starter Homes, part buy / part rent models, and the lifetime ISA to help private renters onto the property ladder.

– PRS reform. Likely commitment to ensure more longer-term tenancies are available in private rented schemes, building on announcements already made. PRS-only developments could be likely.

– Empty Homes. The White Paper talked about “efficient use of existing stock” and says local authorities have the power to tackle empty homes. More powers could be outlined in the manifesto, to help tackle the 200,000 empty homes that could be brought back into use.

– Leaseholder protection. New powers to protect leaseholders are likely to be introduced – as increasing charges, and a lack of transparency is affecting more people each year.

– Green belt back down. We’re unlikely to see any bold announcements on the green belt – after housing minister Gavin Barwell recently admitted there would be no change to the policy, which only allows building on the green belt in exceptional circumstances. The White Paper confirmed this position

Jeremy Corbyn is likely use his first leadership manifesto from 2015 as the key basis for the 2017 manifesto – with a few new Brexit commitments thrown in.

For housing, we’re likely to see Labour build on commitments that have developed over the past 18 months, including:

– A pledge to build 1million new homes in five years, and create a house-building revolution, with at least half a million council homes, through a new public investment strategy.

– Regional home building targets to ensure homes are built in every area, including rural areas in need – like the Conservatives local plans.

– Give local authorities mortgage-lending powers. Following success stories in Manchester, Warrington and Sandwell, Corbyn has spoken of his desire to encourage local authority mortgage lending, linked to expanding the local supply of housing.

– Scrap Help-to- buy. Replacing it with a Help-to-build scheme. This will encourage local authorities to take on the risk of borrowing by offering a £40bn guarantee, based on the strength of the government’s balance sheet, and also reassuring councils that the risks of building during a housing shortage are minimal.

– End Right to Buy, including ending its extension to Housing Associations.

– End insecurity for private renters by introducing rent controls, secure tenancies and a charter of private tenants’ rights, and increase access to affordable home ownership

– Scrap key welfare reform policies. The Bedroom Tax and the ‘benefit cap’ would be scrapped. Measures such as income thresholds triggering rent rises in the social rented sector – the ‘Pay to Stay’ principle – would also be reversed.

Under Tim Farron, we’re unlikely to see a radical change in the housing pledges that were made under Nick Clegg in 2015.

Ideologically, Farron and Clegg come from a similar starting points – and the party’s support for house building across all tenure types is likely to be the same this time around as it was in 2015. Commitments are likely to reflect:

– Increase housebuilding significantly. In 2015, the Party committed to 300,000 new homes a year. It’s likely we could see commitments on the same level again – in an approach to set it apart from the two main parties.

– Re-commit to new Garden Cities? Garden Cities seem to have died down, since the new housing zones have been developed by central government and the London Mayoral teams. The Lib-Dems could bring the policy back, with an effort to support its house building revolution.

– Help to Build not Help to Buy – Likely to replace Help to Buy with Help to Build, giving councils and social housing providers central government investment and greater financial ability to build more social housing.

– Rent to Own – More support for renters to get onto the housing market. In 2015, this saw the Lib Dems commit to 30,000 new homes in England each year.

Jennifer RiddellJenny Riddell is public relations director at See Media.