26 June 2024

How the upcoming election could affect sustainable housing

By Annie Button Freelancer
Polling Station sign on ivy wall

The announcement of the UK general election on May 24th by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has set the stage for a potentially significant shift in the political landscape. With polling projections suggesting that the Labour Party could secure over 400 seats in the House of Commons, the country may be on the brink of its first Labour government since 2010, when voters head to the polls on July 4th.

This potential change in leadership has caught the attention of various sectors, including housing providers, investors and residential buyers who are now considering how a new government might impact the transition to net zero. With the release of official party manifestos, it’s crucial to examine the policies that are being publicly announced and discussed.

Environmental policies are set to play a significant role in this election. An analysis by Friends of the Earth has already rated the major parties based on their adopted green policies. Labour scored 51 points, substantially outperforming the Conservative Party’s 27. However, both parties trail behind the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party, who scored 68 and 82 respectively, indicating that there’s still room for improvement in Labour’s environmental agenda.

Key sustainable housing issues in the UK

The UK is grappling with several challenges when it comes to sustainable housing. These issues not only impact the environment but also intertwine with the ongoing housing crisis.

  • Climate change adaptation: The UK needs to prepare its housing stock for the impacts of climate change, such as increased flooding and heatwaves. Designing homes that can cope with these extremes requires innovative solutions such as heating and cooling features, or insulation.
  • Balancing sustainability and affordability: Building new homes with high sustainability features can be expensive. This creates a tension between meeting the need for more affordable housing and achieving ambitious climate goals.
  • Energy efficiency of existing stock: A large portion of the UK’s housing stock is older and suffers from poor energy efficiency. Retrofitting these homes to meet modern standards is costly and requires significant investment.
  • Urban sprawl vs. green space: As cities densify, there’s a risk of sacrificing green spaces. Finding ways to incorporate nature into urban design while maximising housing is crucial.
  • Competing priorities: The housing crisis, climate change, and economic concerns are all pressing issues. Finding solutions that address all these areas simultaneously requires careful policy making and collaboration between different stakeholders.

Labour’s housing pledge

The Labour Party, under the leadership of Keir Starmer, has made some of the boldest commitments to address the UK’s housing crisis. At the forefront of their housing policy is an ambitious pledge to deliver 1.5 million new homes across the country, prioritising sustainability and future-proofing properties against climate change. This target has garnered significant attention within the construction industry and among housing advocates, eliciting a range of responses from cautious optimism to scepticism.

Key aspects of Labour’s housing pledge include:

  • Large-scale home construction: The promise of 1.5 million new homes is seen by many as a necessary and decisive step towards alleviating the ongoing housing shortage, with the Labour Party stating this demonstrates their recognition of the severity of the current crisis and their willingness to take substantial action.
  • Creation of new towns: Labour proposes to establish new towns in areas with high economic potential. This strategy aims to drive economic growth, create new job opportunities and stimulate local economies.
  • Balancing development with environmental concerns: While the pledge addresses urgent housing needs, it also raises questions about environmental sustainability. The construction of these large-scale housing developments will need to be carefully managed to align with the UK’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 2030.

The environmental impact of these proposed developments is a significant concern. Labour will need to demonstrate how they plan to balance rapid housing construction with sustainable practices and the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions. This may involve implementing stringent energy efficiency standards for new builds, incorporating renewable energy solutions and ensuring brownfield sites are prioritised to minimise the environmental impact of construction.

Comparing other parties’ housing policies

While Labour and the Conservatives have dominated the headlines with their housing policies, other parties have also put forward significant proposals to address the UK’s housing challenges. The Liberal Democrats have pledged to increase annual home construction, with a particular focus on social housing, and aim to support first-time buyers and younger generations. They also plan to abolish leaseholds on residential properties, while strengthening tenant protections by banning Section 21 evictions and implementing longer default tenancies.

The Green Party’s approach, understandably, focuses heavily on sustainability and efficient use of existing resources. They propose reducing vacant homes, eliminating the Right to Buy programme, and advocating for government management of long-term vacant properties. Their plans include investing in councils to deliver 150,000 new, affordable council homes annually, with a strong emphasis on eco-friendly development on brownfield sites. The party also promotes a “Living Rent” concept, which would cap rents at 35% of the local median income.

Reform UK, positioning itself as a right-wing alternative, presents a notably different approach. They plan to review the planning system and explore the use of brownfield sites and vacant high street properties for housing. However, their policies lean more towards supporting landlords, proposing to scrap recent tax changes and opposing additional regulations like the Renters’ Reform Bill.

These diverse approaches highlight the complexity of the UK’s housing challenges. While some parties are focusing on increasing supply and sustainability, others emphasise deregulation and prioritisation of certain groups. The Liberal Democrats and Greens align more closely on issues of tenant protection and social housing, while Reform UK takes a distinctly different stance, particularly on landlord policies. As the election approaches, these varying solutions underscore the multifaceted nature of the housing debate and the different priorities each party brings to the table.

As we await the election results and the subsequent policy implementations, it’s clear that the landscape of sustainable housing in the UK stands at a crossroads. The decisions made in the coming months and years will have far-reaching implications for housing quality, environmental sustainability, and the nation’s progress towards its climate goals.

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