As always, property is proving to be a fierce battleground for political parties hoping to win votes in the upcoming election. With everyone feeling the pinch during a slow economic recovery in the last five years, many are looking for a government who will allow them to feel better off in real terms.
Homeowners want their hard-earned cash used to invest in their homes and their families’ wellbeing to go further. First time buyers want it to become easier to get into their first home and everyone wants to feel the benefit of a stronger economy.
We asked representative of the Conservatives, UKIP and the Green Party about their policy and looked at what Labour and the Lib Dems have set out in their pre-election promises regarding housing, heating and their plans for their constituency. Grant Shapps (chairman, Conservative Party), Tom Chance (Green Party Spokesperson for Housing), and Andrew Charalambous (National Housing Spokesman for UKIP) all answered questions on their party’s policies.
Former Housing Minister Grant Shapps was bullish in promoting the benefits his party have given homeowners during their time in power and how they are looking to the future:
‘We have reduced the deficit by half as a share of GDP, safeguarding our economy for the long-term. This ensures that mortgage rates stay low. We are investing 2.3 billion pounds over the next six years in flood defences to protect 300,000 more homes from flooding.’
Tom Chance, on behalf of the Green Party, who have enjoyed a swell in membership in recent years, are looking to provide protection to homeowners who are struggling in the current financial climate: ‘We would introduce a Right to Rent, which would enable anyone behind on their mortgage repayments to negotiate the ability to rent their home from the lender or their council while they get back on a stable financial footing. So they would not be kicked out of their home.’
Labours answer to the housing crisis lies in plans to build new homes. They pledge to build 200,000 homes by 2020 in order to provide jobs and affordable homes to those who badly want to get their first property. Their website also states the party’s plan to devolve powers to local authorities in order to prevent landowners from blocking building and renovating disused property.
‘UKIP are leading the way in housing’ according to their housing spokesperson Andrew Charambulous. The party are looking to brownfield sites to build affordable housing on. UKIP’s candidate for North East Cambridgeshire mapped out the party’s plan
‘We will achieve this by making brownfield development more attractive than ever before. By providing decontamination assessment grants, removing stamp duty from brownfield first builds, and VAT from brownfield conversion costs. Combined with a system of brownfield bonds and national brownfield register we call this our ‘brownfield revolution’. Our target to build a million homes on brownfield by 2025.’
Green taxes on heating bills appear to be a contentious issue for the parties looking to occupy the front bench after the big day in May. While the Tories and UKIP look to slash such levies, the Green Party want to increase investment in insulating homes to reduce the amount of heating people need and be kinder to the environment. ‘We have some of the lowest energy prices in Europe, but the most leaky homes, so it feels like energy is very expensive. ‘ said Chance.
In relation to overcharging energy companies, Shapps points to their measures to hand more power to the regulator Ofgem while they also want to eradicate the problem of leaky homes.
‘Between £1,000 and £4,000 is available to people when they buy homes to make energy saving improvements. People can also get upfront loans for home improvements through the Green Deal, and cashback of up to £5,600 is available via our Green Deal Home Improvement Fund, which helped more than 20,000 households during the first round of applications.’
Unsurprisingly, rising house prices are amongst the top concerns of the average voter. Top Tory Shapps expressed how this is an issue very much on the Conservatives’ radar: ‘More young people should be able to achieve their dream of owning their own home. We will deliver 10,000 new affordable homes available at below market rent – helping people save for a deposit to buy their first home. We are also extending the Equity Loan part of Help to Buy to 2020 – so 120,000 more families can get an affordable mortgage and buy their own home.’
UKIP are also keen to help those looking to purchase their first home, Charambalous: ‘UKIP will support a new reformed system of help to buy which protects the British taxpayer whilst helping first time buyers onto the property ladder. Foreign nationals will be excluded from social housing right to buy.’
The Green Party believe that policies such as Help to Buy, introduced by the current government only serve to push up house prices further. Tom Chance said:
‘The Green Party would aim to stabilise prices in cash terms, and give private tenants far more security of tenure with rent controls. These would mean that, over time, it would become easier to buy your first home. We need long-term solutions, not self-defeating quick fixes.’
The Lib Dems also promise the building of new affordable housing. Their website commits them to 190,00 affordable homes as well as £10bn being made available to builders to borrow in order to build more.
The property boom is an issue which is close to the heart of most Londoners but is also affecting people from other areas of the country. While potential first time buyers are seeing prices skyrocket out of their budget ranges, recent buyers worry that the bubble will burst leaving them in negative equity.
Tom Chance: ‘Prices in Lewisham West & Penge have risen to obscene levels in recent years, as part of the London property boom. Many will be unable to afford a larger home, or will be concerned about negative equity if the boom turns to another bust. So they need more hope than most, which we could deliver.’
All parties are looking to provide affordable housing to counteract this worrying trend. According to Charambalous: ‘North East Cambs has a serious deficit in affordable housing. Unfortunately the current coalition government like Labour before them failed to plan and prepare for their open door immigration policies.’ UKIP’s answer to this problem is to loosen planning restraints: ‘
‘We will make central and local government free up long term dormant land for residential development. In addition, we will change the planning bias in favour of residential from high street office and commercial buildings. Moreover, we will give local people the power to decide on whether they want a large scale local development or not in their area through a local referendum.’
Sticking to their key principles each party have varying ways to tackle the issues surrounding housing in the current climate. While UKIP’s Charambalous points out ‘immigration has contributed to a surge in local housing demand and helped fuel the current housing crisis’ and the Green Party look to tackle existing issues in wasted fuel in leaky homes, Labour and the Conservatives look to impress with promises of building new affordable homes. We will find out which pledges woo the voting population on 7th May.