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Conservatives reveal 2015 manifesto

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New measures to create housing on brownfield sites, a pledge to build 500 new free schools, and giving housing association tenants the right to buy their homes are all included in the Conservative Party’s election manifesto for 2015

David Cameron’s election pledge to extend Margaret Thatcher’s landmark Right to Buy initiative to housing association properties dominated headlines today as the Conservatives geared up for this morning’s publication of their manifesto, but the policy is not exaclty a bolt from the blue.

Genuinely new measures, however, include an upscaling of the coalition’s Housing Zones programme to more than double the number of properties set to be delivered, and a firm indication that a future Conservative government woud expect local authoriites to play a greater role in aiding the development of brownfield sites by placing planning permission for new homes on suitable land.

The manifesto also confirms Cameron’s earlier pledge to open another 500 free schools over the course of the next parliament, in addition to the 250 opened since 2010. While school budgets are said to be ‘protected’ there is no specific detail on schools-capital funding.

Launching the manifesto, Cameron said that the party’s housing proposals would result in the construction of 400,000 new homes on brownfield sites, while the addition of the Right to Buy expansion would potentially mean that up to 1.3m more families could own their own homes.

‘The dream of a property-owning democracy is alive – and we will fulfil it,’ he said.

RIBA president Stephen Hodder welcomed aspects of the manifesto, but expressed concern over the quality of homes that would result from the party’s brownfield drive, and particularly its starter homes scheme.

Hodder did not address the implications of opening up right-to-buy to housing association properties.

Conservative manifesto - key points

Schools: The party would ‘open at least 500 new free schools’ over the course of the next parliament, resulting in an additional 270,000 school places. The expansion of academies, studio schools and university technical colleges would also continue. The Conservatives pledge investment of ‘at least £7bn’ to provide good school places by 2020, but give no categoric schools capital commitments. In terms of general funding, the manifesto says: ‘On current pupil-number forecasts, there will be a real-terms increase in the schools budget in the next parliament.’

Housing: A pledge to build 200,000 starter homes exclusively for first-time buyers under 40, to be offered at a 20% discount to market rates. An additional 275,000 ‘affordable’ homes would be built by 2020. A £1bn ‘Brownfield Fund’ would be created to support development on previously-used sites. Designated Housing Zones would provide 95,000 new properties by 2020 – a significant increase on the ‘up to 45,000 homes’ expected to be delivered by the 28 pilot and prospective Housing Zones announced in last month’s budget. The party is also targeting a doubling in the number of self-build properties with a new ‘Right to Build’ offer for local people.

Right-to-Buy: The option to buy council properties currently enjoyed by local authority tenants would be extended to those renting housing association homes. Local authorities would be required to sell off their most valuable council homes when they become vacant to help fund the provision of replacement affordable homes.

Planning: The Conservatives would ‘ensure’ that local authorities have a register of brownfield sites within their bounds and that 90% of those sites that are considered ‘suitable’ would have planning permission for housing by 2020. The Consevatives would also ‘halt the spread’ of onshore wind farms by ending subsidies for them and changing the law to give local people a ‘final say’ on wind-farm applications.

Environment: Build 1,400 new flood defence schemes, protecting 300,000 homes. Provide stronger protection for natural landscapes, and the establishment of a ‘blue belt’ to protect marine habitats. New ‘pocket parks’ would also be created in towns and cities.

RIBA president Stephen Hodder responds

Housing: ‘It is vital that the pressure to tackle the housing crisis doesn’t lead to sub-standard homes. The RIBA supports the principle of more low cost homes on brownfield sites but high quality design and infrastructure are essential if these homes are to meet the needs of communities now and in the future.’

Planning: ‘The next government should review the National Planning Policy Framework to ensure that it balances both economic sustainability and social and environmental factors. We remain deeply concerned by the loss of expertise from local authority planning teams and its impact on the quality of new developments.’ 

Schools: ‘We hope that the Conservatives’ commitment to school funding will enable improvements to the quality of the UK’s school buildings. We face a growing shortage of school places, and 80% of our school buildings are in poor condition, failing the students and teachers trying to learn and teach in them. Well-designed buildings improve well-being and cut maintenance costs – vital to the long-term future of the UK’s education system.’

Flood defences: ‘We welcome the party’s announcement that they will build 1,400 new flood defences. However, we need to go further. The next government should provide real security for communities in areas affected by flooding by introducing legislation committing successive UK governments to build flooding resilience as a strategic priority for the long-term. There should also be a guarantee that new homes won’t be built on flood plains.

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