In a speech to the IPPR, Conservative Shadow Housing Minister Grant Shapps has announced what a possible Conservative government would do to encourage more house building. Some has been announced before, but the speech emphasised what the Conservatives believe are key.
The centrepiece is a proposal to scrap regional and national housing targets, but instead encourage councils to accept housing by increasing funding for local services. In many respects it is similar to the current Section 106 agreements whereby developers must pay for improvements in the local area, if their planning application is approved. However, the Conservative proposals would actually agree to allocate 100% of the council tax from any new homes (or 125% for social housing) towards improving services in that community. The intention being that local communities would welcome new housing if they felt they were getting an actual benefit for their local area. Grant Shapps also believes this would therefore allow councillors to campaign for more housing in their community as they would genuinely benefit, rather than having to become NIMBYs to keep on the right side of local residents.
In his speech, Grant Shapps also promoted some ideas that Liberal Democrats will welcome, such as increasing the amount of the business rates that is retained locally and ensuring that major development projects must involve the community from the beginning when being planned. However, one thing that will concern Liberal Democrats is the suggestion that Planning Control Committees may be removed from the process completely when applications are made by Local Housing Trusts, (a Conservative idea where communities would be able to set up a trust to build affordable homes just for local residents). In effect Local Housing Trusts would give themselves planning permission.
It is good to see the different parties actually discussing housing issues – an issue that has long been neglected – but whether these proposals will be what people who are struggling to find suitable places to live actually need, is another question.