Spotlight on the party manifestos and what they mean for the housing sector in the North

As the parties publish their manifestos, we look at what their pledges mean for the housing sector in the North.

A criticism often made of party pledges is that there is little to distinguish one manifesto from another.  This is not a criticism that holds up this time and with multibillion-pound pledges coming thick and fast and promises of a Green Revolution and Social House Building Revolution, NHC Senior Policy Advisor Karen Brown has looked at the main party manifestos to see where they diverge or converge on housing policies.

Here’s a summary of the key housing pledges in the three main English parties’ manifestos.

Raising Housing Standards

Climate Change

Labour’s manifesto “It’s Time for a Real Change” launches a Green New Deal and, ambitiously, brings forward the target to achieve net-zero emissions within the 2030s with a pledge to deliver nearly 90% of electricity and 50% of heat from renewable and low-carbon sources by 2030.

They aim to introduce a zero-carbon homes standard for all new homes and upgrade almost all the UK’s existing 27 million homes to the highest energy-efficiency standards with the aim of eliminating fuel poverty.  There would be support for the roll out of heat pumps, solar hot water and hydrogen and investment in district heat networks using waste heat.

The Liberal Democrat Party have included an emergency ten-year programme to “reduce energy consumption from all the UK’s buildings, cutting emissions and fuel bills and ending fuel poverty” in their manifesto “Stop Brexit: Build a Brighter Future”.    They would require all new homes to be built to a zero-carbon standard by 2021 and Passivhaus standard by 2025 and would pilot a new subsidised Energy-Saving Homes scheme which would provide free retrofits for low-income homes.   A zero-carbon heat strategy would see the phased installation of heat pumps in homes off the gas grid and they would aim to insulate all of Britain’s homes by 2030.

Funding for this will come from a £5 billion investment for a new Green Investment Bank to use public money to attract private investment for zero-carbon priorities.  They plan to impose a statutory duty on all local authorities to produce a Zero Carbon Strategy.

The Conservative manifesto, ‘Get Brexit Done Unleash Britain’s Potential’ restates the existing target of reaching Net Zero by 2050 with investment in clean energy solutions and green infrastructure to reduce carbon emissions.  This promises to lower energy bills funded through capital investment of a ‘social housing decarbonisation fund’ over the next four years.  Existing pledges include the Future Homes Standard to decarbonise new homes from 2025, but is silent on the retrofitting of existing homes.

Building Safety

A Labour government would introduce a £1 billion Fire Safety Fund to “fit sprinklers and other fire safety measures in all high rise council and housing association tower blocks, enforce the replacement of Grenfell-style cladding, while introducing mandatory building standards and guidance, inspected and enforced by fully trained Fire and Rescue Service fire safety officers.”

The Conservatives had already committed to implementing and legislating for all the recommendations of the Hackitt Review and the first phase of the independent inquiry.  They have pledged to continue the testing process of materials used in cladding.

The Liberal Democrat manifesto is silent on building safety and fire prevention.

Standards in the Private Rented Sector

The Labour leadership is determined to shift power away from landlords to tenants.  Labour plans to introduce rent controls by capping rents with inflation; cities would also be given powers to cap rents further. New open-ended tenancies would provide security and stop ‘no fault’ evictions and new minimum standards would be enforced through nationwide licensing and tougher sanctions on landlords. A renters’ union would be set up across the country to allow renters to “organise and defend their rights.”

Labour would also end discriminatory rules that require landlords to check people’s immigration status or that allow them to exclude people on housing benefit.

Labour backed down on plans to develop a new Right to Buy scheme for private tenants to buy their rented properties from landlords but the manifesto includes powers and funding for councils to buy homes from private landlords.

The Liberal Democrat manifesto pledges mandatory licensing to improve protections against rogue landlords.  It also suggests increasing minimum energy efficiency standards and a new Help to Rent scheme with government-backed tenancy deposit loans for all first-time renters under 30.  Longer tenancies of three years or more “with an inflation-linked annual rent increase built in”  would aim to give tenants security and limit rent hikes.

The Conservatives ‘Better Deal for Renters’ confirms that they are standing by their proposal to abolish ‘no fault’ evictions.  This also includes a proposal to require only one ‘lifetime’ deposit which moves with the tenant. This will go alongside strengthening rights of possession for landlords.

Decent Homes

Under Labour homes would be built to higher standards according to a new Decent Homes programme. Tenants would be empowered to impact the management of social housing and regeneration would be carried out according to their needs.  Labour wants housing associations to be much clearer and closer to their social purpose.

Under Liberal Democrats, standards of social housing would be made clearer and regulations to protect renters would be enforced. They aim to fully recognise tenant panels so that renters have a voice in landlord governance and require complaints to be dealt with in a timely manner.

The Conservative manifesto pledges to bring forward a Social Housing White Paper which will set out measures to empower tenants and support the continued supply of social homes. This will include measures to provide greater redress, better regulation and improve the quality of social housing.

Welfare Reform

Labour will scrap Universal Credit and will design an alternative system including an emergency package of reforms to mitigate some of the worst features of UC while a replacement system is developed.  The benefit cap, bedroom tax and two-child limit would also be scrapped.

Under a new system, plans would be for fortnightly payments as well as paying the housing element directly to landlords. Payments would be split so that women in abusive relationships can still receive the “child element” of the payment.

The Liberal Democrats would reform Universal Credit by reducing the wait for the first payment from five weeks to five days as well as removing the two-child limit, bedroom tax and the benefits cap. Local Housing Allowance would be raised in line with average rents in an area.

The Conservatives will continue the roll-out of Universal Credit, and will end the benefit freeze, while making sure it pays to work more hours.

Capacity of Local Services and Local Powers

Levelling-up across the regions

Labour’s manifesto includes a pledge to “level-up across the country” by ensuring investment is evenly spread across the regions as well as bringing about a “radical decentralisation of power.” This will be supported by the launch of a Local Transformation Fund in each region to fund infrastructure projects.  A National Transformation Fund Unit would be based in the North of England and would provide a regional voice in Whitehall.

They aim to bring services back into the remit of local councils. This would entail making funding for local authorities to be more “reactive” and respond to sharp rises in demand for services. They aim to “rebalance power in the planning system by giving local government greater freedom to set planning fees and by requiring the climate and environmental emergency to be factored into all planning decisions.”

The Liberal Democrat manifesto also plans to give local authorities and regions the powers to make decisions about their areas with a capital £50 billion Regional Rebalancing Programme. They aim to “continue to champion investment in the Northern Powerhouse.”  They pledge to “end the continual erosion of local government funding” and commit to a real increase in local government funding over key levers of economic development such as housing.

The Conservative manifesto continues the commitment made in the last Queen’s Speech for full devolution across England with the publishing of an English Devolution White Paper next year.  Through bodies like the Northern Powerhouse, there will be a drive for greater levels of foreign investment into the UK, promoting towns and cities.  As part of plans for full devolution proposals will be invited from local areas for growth bodies like the Oxford-Cambridge Arc.


The Conservative manifesto confirmed its commitment to regenerating towns with the Towns Fund going to an initial 100 towns to improve their local economy.  They have committed to ‘Infrastructure First’ by amending planning rules so that the infrastructure – roads, schools, GP surgeries – comes before people move into new homes and a new £10 billion Single Housing Infrastructure Fund will help deliver it faster.

The Liberal Democrats have committed to reform planning to ensure developers are required to provide essential local infrastructure from affordable homes to schools, surgeries and roads alongside new homes. They will set up a £2 billion Rural Services Fund to enable the co-location of services in local hubs around existing local infrastructure.

Labour would set up a Local Transformation Fund in each English region to be used exclusively to fund infrastructure projects decided at a local level.

Access to Affordable Housing

Labour plans to create a new Department for Housing, make Homes England a more accountable national housing agency and put councils in the driving seat.  They would introduce an English Sovereign Land Trust to be able to buy land cheaper and use this public land for low-cost housing. This would also include new “use it or lose it” taxes on developers for stalled housing developments and make brownfield sites the priority for development while protecting the green belt.

Under Labour the definition of “affordable” would be modified so that it is based on local incomes.

Labour’s planned social housebuilding programme would aim to build more than a million homes over a decade with council housebuilding at the forefront. Their annual target by the end of the next Parliament is 150,000 council and social homes, with 100,000 of these built by councils for social rent in the “biggest council housebuilding programme in more than a generation.” The manifesto confirms these homes would be made available in every area.

Labour plan to build more low-cost homes reserved for first-time buyers in every area and build new discount homes with prices linked to local incomes. Help to Buy would be reformed to focus on first-time buyers on “ordinary” incomes. They also aim to end the sale of new leasehold properties, abolish unfair fees and conditions, and give leaseholders the right to buy their freehold at a price they can afford.

To stop the ‘haemorrhage’ of low-cost homes, they would end the Right to Buy.

The Liberal Democrats have committed to new direct spending on housebuilding to help build 300,000 homes a year by 2024, including 100,000 social homes.  They would devolve full control of Right to Buy to local councils and introduce a new Rent to Own model for social housing where rent payments give tenants an increasing stake in the property, owning it outright after 30 years.

The Conservative manifesto commits to renewing the Affordable Homes Programme, in order to support the delivery of “hundreds of thousands of affordable homes”.

Conservatives continue their progress towards a target of 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s, while continuing to protect the Green Belt.  They have not set a specific social housing target, as the other two parties have done. They also propose to make the planning system simpler and support modern methods of construction.

They offer support particularly for first time buyers with new fixed rate mortgages which reduce the level of deposit required.  They will offer more homes to local families, enabling councils to use developers’ contributions via the planning process to discount homes in perpetuity by a third for local people or key workers.  They have extended the Help to Buy scheme from 2021 to 2023 and will review new ways to support home ownership following its completion.

As already announced, they intend to reform shared ownership, making it fairer and more transparent and will set a single standard for all housing associations.

Leasehold reforms will continue including implementing a ban on the sale of new leasehold homes, restricting ground rents to a peppercorn, and providing necessary mechanisms of redress for tenants.

The manifesto continues the commitment to a Right to Buy for all council tenants and the voluntary Right to Buy scheme agreed with housing associations.


The Labour manifesto plans to end rough sleeping within five years through a national plan by a prime minister-led taskforce. Hostels would be expanded and upgraded with 8,000 additional homes to be made available for people with a history of rough sleeping. It is outlined that Local Housing Allowance would be raised in line with the 30th percentile of local rents and an additional £1 billion a year would be earmarked for councils’ homelessness services.

They plan to repeal the Vagrancy Act and amend anti-social behaviour legislation to stop the law being used against those who are homeless.

The Liberal Democrat manifesto includes a plan to introduce a “somewhere safe to stay” legal duty to ensure that everyone who is at risk of sleeping rough is provided with emergency accommodation with an assessment of their needs and ensure that local authorities have the resources to deliver the Homelessness Reduction Act as well as providing accommodation for survivors of domestic abuse. They would also scrap the Vagrancy Act.

The Conservatives have already pledged to fully enforce the Homelessness Reduction Act.   They also aim to end rough sleeping by the end of the next Parliament by expanding pilots and programmes such as the Rough Sleeping Initiative and Housing First and working to bring together local services to meet the health and housing needs of people sleeping on the streets.

To sum up…..

All the parties are talking about the need for more housing and it is positive – and a huge change in emphasis since the last election in 2017 – that the need for more social housing is so high on the political agenda.  There is a welcome commitment by the Conservatives to extend the Affordable Homes Programme, but no detail is provided on what this will look like.    Party commitments need to be set in the context of independent assessment that 140,000 additional affordable homes are needed each year in England; of which around 19,000 must be delivered in the North.

All the main parties are talking about regional priorities and Northern issues, with promises to ‘level-up’ the regions, having started as a Conservative pledge, it has now spread to the Labour manifesto.

The Labour Manifesto is the most radical on social housing delivery, standards in the private rented sector, and support for those on low income and benefits.   The Conservative Manifesto confirms a continuation of the policy programme that was underway prior to the election with a focus on new build housing and home ownership.   The Liberal Democrat Manifesto includes ambitions for delivery of social housing funded by investment from a £130 billion capital infrastructure budget.

All parties have targets for net zero carbon emissions from homes.  The ambitions for reducing emissions from houses are challenging and will require investment from an incoming government.  We will look forward to seeing the detail of this and how the housing sector can lead the way on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

With promised investment in public services across the board, this signals an end to a policy of austerity which will be necessary to deliver the council-house building revolution and planning reform which the main parties agree is needed to end the housing crisis.

The NHC will use the election and its aftermath to continue to make the case for housing in the North. Look out for our on-the-day election results briefing on Friday 13th December.

These are our ‘asks’ to an incoming government:

  • Expand the affordable homes programme and ensure it continues to support the North to create great homes and places.
  • Enable the North to raise the quality of our existing housing stock through a flexible regeneration fund and target support to housing providers to meet essential net-zero carbon emissions targets.
  • Create capacity in our councils to deliver on their housing ambitions.