Housing has barely come up in the election campaign

8th Jul 2024
David J Alexander

There aren’t many people who believe that this general election campaign has been exciting, interesting, or particularly illuminating. There’s been a lot of pronouncements but precious little detail.

There was a time when elections had four key elements: health, education, housing, and the economy were the main battleground for political parties. While there have been some proposals on housing announced in the manifestos it has had much less focus than many would have anticipated.

Housebuilding targets of 1.5 million and 1.6 million over the term of the parliament have been announced by the Labour and Conservative parties respectively along with incentives to first-time buyers to ease their way into the market. But for an issue as important as housing it seems that there remains little political mileage in tackling a problem which is increasingly impacting upon millions of voters under the age of 40.

The key housing issues are spread across the whole market from homebuyers to tenants in the private and social rented sectors yet there seems little appetite to address these key structural issues which have dogged the housing sector for the last few years. 

Forty years ago, around 40 per cent of houses were built by SME housebuilders but this figure has now dipped below 10 per cent. Encouraging more building companies through tax and financial incentives would be a way to create growth in the sector.

Reform of planning is cited by the two main parties as key to growth, but we have heard all of this before and know that when it comes to actual implementation this policy invariably falls foul of nimbyism. People like the idea of building new homes, they just don’t want them in their area.

Given that 2.4 million homes have been built in England over the last 14 years the likelihood of any party delivering 300,000 a year seems to be a stretch. This level of housebuilding has not been achieved in the UK since the 1960s so the chances of any party achieving this in the next five years is extremely unlikely. Setting targets is laudable; achieving them is usually much more difficult.

But that is clearly what is required. A focus on housebuilding in the private and social housing sector in the coming decade is the only way to resolve the current impasse facing homeowners and tenants.

Any action in England should be replicated in Scotland where the situation is just as acute and getting worse with each passing day. The latest housing starts data from the Scottish Government indicate that the situation in Scotland is unlikely to be alleviated any time soon. All sector newbuild starts have fallen 15.5 per cent and completions are down 17.4 per cent. These are lowest annual figures since 2013-14 and are even lower than during the pandemic.

Yet housebuilding creates jobs, improves GDP, and generates economic growth but, for some reason, it has remained stubbornly disregarded for decades. It is up to Westminster and Holyrood to address this key issue if we are not to see a greater housing emergency in the future.

Any new government should use the opportunity provided by an election victory to produce a reset on housing policy to improve the lives of voters now and in the future.

David J Alexander is CEO of DJ Alexander Scotland Ltd