The Conservatives will today put Britain’s housing crisis at the centre of their election campaign, pledging to boost the supply of new homes and extend the right-to-buy policy to housing association tenants.
Prime Minister David Cameron will use the official manifesto launch to argue that the Tories are “the party of working people”. He will point to the coalition government’s record of achieving all-time-high employment levels, boosting training for young people and encouraging saving.
“My message to Britain is this,” he is expected to say. “We have come this far together. Let’s not waste the past five years. Now is not a time to put it all at risk, but to build on the progress we have made.”
Building houses makes up a core part of the manifesto, with Cameron saying that a Tory government would provide the funding for 400,000 new homes on brownfield land over the next parliament.
The plan would involve local authorities bidding for chunks of a £1bn fund, using the money to clean up brownfield sites and develop the infrastructure necessary for homes to be built on the land.
Additionally, Margaret Thatcher’s famous right-to-buy scheme – which allows tenants in council houses to buy their homes – will be extended to housing association tenants.
The Conservatives say the plan will give 1.3m families the chance to own their own homes.
Each home sold under the scheme will be replaced with a new property, the manifesto promises.
To pay for the replacement homes, and to fund the brownfield projects, the Conservatives say they will force local authorities to sell off vacated properties “which rank among the most expensive third of all properties of that type in their area.”
“No-one will have to move house,” the party promises.
The plans were met with a mixed reception by housing activist groups last night.
“Investing to get brownfield ready for development is welcome, but we would urge the Conservatives to focus this spending in the areas like London where house prices are the most unaffordable for working people,” said Priced Out’s Duncan Stott.
“In order to get the homes we desperately need built, we must look to both brownfield and greenfield sites,” Stott added.
However, the Tory manifesto will instead pledge to protect the greenbelt from developers. Yesterday Eric Pickles, who served in the coalition government, argued that Ed Miliband’s party would differ in its approach to greenbelt land. “Labour Party drops protection of greenbelt from its manifesto,” Pickles tweeted. “Was in 2010 but no mention in today’s manifesto.”
Miliband denied the charge at a separate news conference, however, insisting that a Labour government would “put brownfield first and to restore the brownfield first principle.”
The Conservatives’ plan to extend right-to-buy faces criticism over the potential taxpayer cost of the scheme, meanwhile.
“We fully support the aspiration of homeownership but extending Right to Buy to housing associations is the wrong solution to our housing crisis,” said Ruth Davison of the National Housing Federation.
“A very conservative estimate of this policy puts the cost to the tax payer of at least £5.8bn – no paltry sum in times of austerity and a figure that could grow into the tens of billions as more people become eligible,” she added.
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