Missed our briefing on the Conservatives housing policy? Read it here.

In keeping with the wider themes of the Conference, the Labour Party stuck to addressing the housing and planning agenda through the prism of social breakdown and market failure. The Shadow  Secretary of State for Housing, John Healey, did not deliver a keynote speech but the issue was woven through various events and  speeches. With the blackened shell of the Grenfell Tower looming large at all times. 

There were no new policy pledges or headline-grabbing announcements. In an unusual display of discipline, the Party stuck to the core policies set out in their May General Election manifesto and earlier mini Housing Manifesto – resisting the usual political urge to offer the sort of policy gewgaws that generally litter the auditoria of  political conferences. 

In his Leader’s address to conference, Jeremy Corbyn referenced the failing market but cleverly grounded his remarks in the human  impact of the problem. Rent controls, greedy landlords, homes unfit for  habitation, ballooning homelessness and the mounting fears of a young generation unable to access home ownership or even home rental were the key themes of his speech. On Grenfell specifically he confirmed that John Healey would launch a review of social  housing policy – its building, planning, regulation and management. 

Notably, particularly given the forthcoming London Borough  elections in May 2018, he attacked the swathe of estate regeneration currently rolling out across both Labour and Conservative Boroughs in the capital. Mr Corbyn promised that under a Labour government, existing tenants would be guaranteed the right to remain on their estate under the same conditions and that local authorities would have to win a ballot of tenants before estate renewal could proceed.

Shortly after conference, Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey, published a short article in Huffington Post adding clarity and detail to the broad themes of his Leader’s speech. The cynical interpretation might be that Healey was seeking to moderate and contextualise Mr Corbyn’s emotive comments and mollify the anxiety of local  authorities and the housing industry.  

On estate regeneration he confirmed that “These are not rules to tie the hands of  councils who are regenerating now under the pressure of Conservative constraints and funding cuts, but part of a package of measures that Labour in government will introduce to support the building of new homes to benefit local people.”

Specific promises included:

  • New flexibility on housing spending and receipts
  • New powers for compulsory purchase and land assembly
  • Additional regeneration funding

On the review of social housing he noted that the party would “be looking for the widest possible input, not just from experts but tenants, community groups and the public as we shape our social housing review to tackle the big problems that the Grenfell Tower fire means we must now urgently confront.” 

Whilst lacking the traditional headline grabbing announcements, Labour’s approach to the housing agenda at Conference was arguably successful in that it took an issue which for years has been couched in terms of complex policy arguments and grounded it in the concerns of voters across the economic spectrum.  

Whilst those in the industry might find this approach lacking in depth, shorn as it is of serious policy proposals to fix the problem. Nevertheless if it captures the imagination of non-traditional Labour voters, harnessing the same fervour that carried the  Conservatives to victory in 1951, it will have done the job.

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