As the Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference draws to a close, JBP Political Analysis Team members Matt Gilling and Matthew Roberts reflect on the key takeaways from the conference on the built environment sector.
- Despite attempts by Ed Davey, Tim Farron and Helen Morgan, the party maintains its commitment to a national housing target of 380,000 new homes per year to address the housing crisis. This motion split the party in half with the ‘Yimby’ faction led by the Young Liberals, who believe that the target is the only profound way to tackle the housing crisis and give young people an opportunity for homeownership. The nimby faction meanwhile accused the other half of ‘Thatcherism’ believing that housing targets give developers all the bargaining power and compromise the UK’s greenbelt. There is no single Lib Dem approach to housing.
- The Liberal Democrats have agreed to reform the planning system and are lobbying for change by introducing a ‘use-it-or-lose-it planning permission’ to deter land banking. The common perception was that developers sit on consented sites throughout the country, refusing to build.
- Community engagement and civic participation in the planning process needs to be expanded, the party wants developers to speak to the ‘silent majority’ much more when bringing forward new sites, as well as underrepresented groups. This is part of the Lib Dems’ community-led approach to development.
- The party is committed to an overall target of building 150,000 social homes with councils having the power to mandate that public land is developed for social housing only. Eastleigh District Council, led by Councillor Keith House, serves as the gold standard for housing. Ed Davey is urging all Liberal Democrat-led councils to take on the developer role, without relying on the private sector. Short-term goals include greater use of joint ventures to give councils greater control, while in the longer term, the aspiration is for all councils to have their own development company.
- The Liberal Democrats are committed to building 10 new Garden Cities, although where these may be built is unclear.
- There needs to be higher minimum standards for newly built homes, including the use of air-source heat pumps and solar panels. For existing homes, the Liberal Democrats have announced that all homes in Britain will be insulted to the highest possible EPC standard in 10 years. Developers must be encouraged not to change their building specifications because of Rishi Sunak’s net zero backpedal.