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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Black

Whose Manifesto is the Besto?.....2.0

 



So, the impending general election gives me the opportunity to roll out this blog post title once again! Actually, it is worth thinking back to what we were promised in that Tory Party Manifesto in 2019 for one minute (gosh a lot has happened in the world since then hasn’t it?). Back then the focus of the Tory Party was on getting Brexit Done and of course we were promised ‘Levelling Up’, a Social Housing White Paper, and 300k homes a year by the mid 2020s. None of which happened despite the thumping great majority that Boris returned in that election.

 

This election campaign is quite different though and from what I am hearing of the empty rhetoric coming out from the runners and riders so far I had initially thought of calling it ‘one song to the tune of another’. Those hardliner radio 4 listeners amongst you will recognise it as a round from I’m Sorry I Havent a Clue which is, in my opinion, by far and away the best radio programme full stop. The regular round on 'ISIHAC' challenges panellists to do what it says on the tin and sing the words of one song to the tune of another.  Some classics over the years include “Gangnam Style” to the tune of “Ode to Joy”; “A Whiter Shade of Pale” to the tune of the theme from “The Muppet Show” AND “Blame It on the Boogie” to the tune of “Scotland the Brave”.

 

Listening to the recent bartering on housing numbers it feels a bit like the words coming out of those mouths don’t match the music we've all been hearing and certainly the backing track. It is certainly not what we have experienced over the life time of this parliament in terms of planning reform or house building. Anyway, I've digressed already!

 

Before I get stuck in – I am only concentrating on what the parties say about housing and planning. Which is dangerous. It’s dangerous because it misses the wider picture. We also know that one of the biggest challenges facing our country isnt immigration but is in fact growth and productivity and without that things are looking bleak in the medium to long term for this country in terms of our deficit, inflation and future generations.

 

Righteo, on to some of those manifestos. If you want a more balanced, intelligent and less cynical view of them then I highly recommend reading my good pal Nicola Gooch’s posts on all the manifestos.

 

Lib Dems were first off this week. With Ed Davey’s campaign increasingly looking like an episode of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em with him falling off paddle boards and the like, their manifesto (For a Fair Deal) set out the following:

 

  • Building of 380,000 homes a year (uncluding 150,000 social homes)

  • As part of this they will build 10 new garden cities.

  • Allowing council's to CPO land on current use value rather than hope value through reform of the Land Compensation Act.

  • Properly funding local planning departments

 

In doing so though there is not a single mention of green belt in their manifesto .

 

Next off were the Tories with their manifesto (Clear Plan, Bold Action, Secure Future) which tempted us with the following:


  • Delivery of 1.6m home in England over next parliament.

  • Continuing the dodgy racket that is freeports.

  • Abolishing neutriant neutrality’ to unlock 100,000 homes

  • Using a new Infrastructure Levy to deliver local infrastructure needed to support homes.

 

Again no mention of green belt (apart from a commitment to protect it!), strategic planning or massive overhaul of the existing planning system. Very much a ‘nothing to see here….business as usual’ approach – how on earth the think they will get to 1.6 million homes in the next parliament without changing anything is beyond me.   

 

Then today with the Labour Manifesto launch (Change) which looked much more like an old school election rally than the corporate away day style of the Tory party launch. A lot of detail in it, and a lot of pictures of Kier Starmer, but perhaps not the detail many were hoping for. With it, came the promise of:


  • Planning reform to build 1.5 million new homes

  • An immediate update of the NPPF including restoring mandatory housing targets

  • A more strategic approach to green belt including release of lower quality ‘grey belt’ (but no more details on what that means)

 

Interestingly the planning reforms set out by Labour are in a section titled 'Kickstarting Economic Growth' (alongside a picture of.....you've guessed it.....Sir Kier!). So at least Labour are talking the talk on growth and productivity. Most importantly, there is this very tempting promise from them on strategic planning.........


Housing need in England cannot be met without planning for growth on a larger than local scale sowe will introduce effective new mechanisms for cross-boundary strategic planning. Labour will require all Combined and Mayoral Authorities to strategically plan for housing growth in their areas. We will give Combined Authorities new planning powers along with new freedoms and flexibilities to make better use of grant funding.


This is what the likes of Catriona Riddell have been rightly championing for a long time and is surely the only way that the sorts of numbers being talked about can be achieved.


And then the 'also rans'. We don’t know what Reform have to say yet, their manifesto is out next week' and whether I have the will to write that up as a separate addendum to this blog or not remains to be seen! The Greens have put a decent amount of thought into their manifesto (Real Hope, Real Change) with the focus, as you would expect, on greener homes and a push for 150,000 homes a year (as per Lib Dems), by which I assume they accept that you would have to build at least 300,000 homes in total to make that even vaguely viable? Not sure they do.

 

Of course there is always refreshing value, and sometimes some surprising logic, to reading the manifesto pledges of the likes of the Monster Raving Loony Party. One of their previous manifesto pledges was to reduce hospital waiting lists by using a smaller font (I mean – fair enough!) and also achieving Levelling Up by giving everyone in the country a new spirit level (would have achieved more than the Tory Party broken promise on the matter!). Also my favourite Count Bin Face is standing against Rishi Sunak in his Richmond constituency (as he has done with every prime minister in the last few elections). Personally, I have always been a big supporter of the Count's pledge to bring back Ceefax (memories of checking the football scores on a saturday afternoon as a kid) !

 

One last thing though. As I said earlier it is easy as a built environment environmental to skim straight to the stuff on planning within manifestos and to gloss over some of the other things in manifestos. One thing that left a lasting impression for me this week was Ed Davey’s video talking about his care for his son, his experience of losing both his parents at a young age after being his mum’s carer as a schoolboy and his passionate plea for investment in social care. Do me a favour and watch it while your are having your coco pops this morning. It makes for quite emotional watching.


We have to sort out social care in this country. One of the biggest missed promises from 14 years of Tories was to sort out social care which is in a very sorry state in this country. The constant missed promosies of a proper Social Housing White Paper. That has a high degree of linkage with planning and housing but it remains off the table for the parties in favour of other false priorities.

 

So in the early hours of 5th July, the exact scale of the labour majority will be revealed, as will the future of the conservative party and what the opposition benches will look like. Are we about to see a ‘supermajority’ as warned by Shappsy? I’m not sure about that. But we could be on the edge of something quite radical in terms of planning, housing and growth.


However, we go into this election at a time when a recent report by John Curtis has found that disillusionment in politics and politicians is at an all time low. The parties have to hit that head on and this parliament needs to seriously differentiate itself from the previous in that regard.

 

Who will I be voting for on 4th July? Not telling. Whose manifesto is the best(o)? – well certainly Labour has captured many of my hopes and those of others.


But I just ask for three things in this coming parliament.

  • Obviously we have to build more homes. Several sources, including a recent report from centre for cities, show we need signficantly more than all the manifestos are promising. But lets build the right homes in the right places with the right infrastructure. Let's have a massive 'totaliser' (like the ones they used to have on Blue Peter in the 80s! ) that shows how many homes we are building each month/year and stick it up in parliament square so all the MPs can see the progress of it every day!

  • Please please please can we have a secretary of state who lasts more than 5 minutes. A 3 year term should be the absolute minimum.

  • We have to restore the faith in politics (both at Westminster and in our town halls). We must properly uphold the Nolan Principles in all forms of office and make sure that politicians can be once again trusted to steer this country back on track.


AB - My own thoughts.




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