Real Estate

Housebuilders throw support behind Labour as Tories ‘bow to Nimbyism’

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Housebuilders are overwhelmingly backing the Labour party to win the next UK election, as government concessions to anti-development MPs and the rapid turnover of housing ministers have alienated the industry. 

Some 70 per cent of housebuilders surveyed favour a Labour government ahead of an election expected later this year, according to a Knight Frank poll of 50 housebuilders in England that together build 70,000 new homes each year. 

“There is clearly mounting frustration amongst housebuilders, and growing demand for practical solutions,” said Charlie Hart, head of development land at Knight Frank. 

Chief executives in the industry say the government has capitulated to backbench MPs by scrapping plans to ease planning restrictions and making changes that executives argue will lead to fewer homes being built. 

The government’s approach has “allowed Labour to park its tanks on what has traditionally been a Conservative business [and] home ownership friendly lawn”, said one senior housebuilding executive. The Tories were “bowing to Nimbyism”, the chief executive of one major housebuilder said. 

There have been 15 housing ministers since David Cameron took power in 2010, a level of turnover that executives say contributed to the breakdown in relations. 

England added 234,400 net new homes last year, according to official statistics, of which 212,570 were newbuilds — less than the government target of 300,000 per year. Data suggest supply is set to fall further this year. 

Levelling-up secretary Michael Gove has had to compromise with anti-development backbenchers by making local housing targets “advisory” for councils. In December he said forcing development on to communities would only make the backlash worse, and that he would still push for more house building by pressuring local authorities to bring forward local plans to guide development. 

“Very few of the changes are positive,” said Peter Truscott, chief executive of Crest Nicholson

Gove’s approach was “like the general ordering around imaginary armies,” Truscott said. “It is not happening and it is not going to happen . . . Nobody fears the consequences, so they are just not doing it”. 

A spokesperson for the department of levelling up said: “Housebuilding is a government priority and despite the economic climate we remain on track to meet the manifesto commitment of delivering one million homes this Parliament.” 

Labour has pledged to boost housebuilding through measures including a “blitz of planning reform”, fast-tracking housing on previously-developed urban brownfield sites and working to build a number of “new towns”. The party also wants to push developers to building more affordable homes and make better use of government funding to deliver the “biggest boost to affordable housing for a generation”.

However, some in the sector think Labour’s plans lack detail and that it will be difficult to deliver on their promises. They worry the party may push the requirements for the share of affordable housing within developments so high that the sites become unprofitable to develop. 

“It is not clear to me that the Labour party has a housing strategy. I just don’t think they have got there yet,” said Marc Vlessing, chief executive of Pocket Living, a smaller developer. Although he added that the number of Tory mis-steps on housing was “scarcely believable . . . Of all political parties, that is the one thing they tend to get right”.