Labour plans to slash affordable rents and give first-time buyers exclusive rights to purchase new-build homes for six months, it will announce this weekend, as it bids to steal the Conservatives’ claim to be “the party of homeownership”.
Lucy Powell, shadow housing secretary, will say a government led by Keir Starmer will restrict to 50% the number of properties in a development that can be sold to overseas buyers, which in some city locations has created “ghost towers” as investors leave homes empty. Labour also wants to give councils powers to force landowners to sell vacant sites to build new housing at lower prices than the compulsory purchase system currently allows.
The policy package will be announced at Labour’s conference in Brighton and amounts to a direct challenge to Michael Gove – the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities. Labour claims his decision to pause unpopular planning reforms has left the government without a strategy for meeting its housebuilding targets.
Labour is also keen to capitalise on what it perceives to be government weakness over its handling of the building safety crisis with hundreds of thousands of leaseholders, including people in shared ownership affordable housing schemes, facing bills in the tens of thousands of pounds.
“Labour is the party of homeownership, the Tories are the party of speculators and developers,” Powell said. “They treat housing as a commodity, not the bedrock of stable lives and life chances.”
But the Conservatives are also poised to make changes to housing policy, starting with reissued planning reforms. Putting Gove in charge of levelling up and housing policy has been widely viewed as Boris Johnson giving one of his most trusted ministers the remit for issues seen as crucial to the next election.
A lack of access to affordable housing is viewed as a key driver of inequality, both between regions and across generations. One of Gove’s new junior ministers is Neil O’Brien, the Tory MP who previously acted as Johnson’s official adviser on levelling up. He proposed reforming compulsory purchase powers for councils in a 2018 paper on solving the housing crisis titled “Green, pleasant and affordable”.
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