Posted by: Jules Birch14/04/2010
Today’s Liberal Democrat manifesto is about as full of housing goodies as it can be - though there is at least one nasty surprise for the sector too. Some of the products on offer will be familiar.
Cheap loans and grants would bring 250,000 empty homes back into use at a cost of £1.2bn in 2010/11. A mansion tax of 1% on homes worth more than £2m (a higher threshold than when it was first announced) would raise £1.7bn a year.
Others come with tempting offers for the future. On the key question of investment, the Lib Dems say: ‘Over time, we will seek to provide a greater degree of subsidy as resources allow to increase the number of new sustainable homes being built.’
It’s not exactly a cast-iron pledge but it’s further than Labour or the Conservatives seemed prepared to go. Still more are desirable products that are impossible to find at the stores of the other parties. The party pledges to equalise VAT on repair and maintenance and new build, a key demand of the housing and construction sectors for years.
It also says it will ‘investigate reforming public sector borrowing requirements to free councils to borrow money against their assets in order to build a new generation of council homes, and allow them to keep all the revenue from these new homes’.
As I argued on Monday, this was a key thing missing from the Labour manifesto. On second homes - a key concern in Lib Dem seats in the South West - the party promises new powers for local authorities to set higher council tax, and the option to require planning permission for new ones.
Meanwhile policy on capital gains tax would ensure that speculative gains on second homes would be taxed at the same rate as earned income rather than the current 18%.
So far, so good though the party also promises ‘honesty about the tough choices needed to cut the deficit’ and that means there will be some less palatable things at the checkout too.
Like the other parties, the Lib Dems will target public sector pay. There will be a £400 pay rise cap ‘initially for two years’ for all public sector workers to save £1.7bn in 2011/12 and £3.5bn a year in subsequent years.
Housing associations will not be keen on one of the other Lib Dem cuts. The Homebuy programme would be scaled back by £250m in 2010/11, with the saving rising to £270m by 2014/15.
There will be concern too about the Lib Dems’ policy on planning. The manifesto pledges to abolish the Infrastructure Planning Commission and return decision-making, including housing targets, to local people’.
It does not spell out exactly how that would work but the housing section of the Lib Dem website says: ‘We will scrap the ‘Westminster knows best’ regional house-building targets by allowing local authorities to determine how many and what type of homes are needed in their area.’
The party would also hold community land auctions to bring forward sites for new development. Politically that should help Lib Dem candidates compete with the Conservatives in a swathe of seats in the south and midlands of England.
Practically though what’s to stop it becoming even more of a charter for nimbys than the Tories are offering - and without the council tax incentives to approve more homes?
From Inside edge
Housing commentator Jules Birch puts the latest news in context