Party conference fatigue did not seem to be setting in for the Lib Dems this week, as they travelled up to Glasgow en masse and whipped out a string of policy proposals concerning the property industry.
The commitment to build 10 garden cities was a crowd pleaser and the proposals trailed had kernels of sound logic in them, particularly in the link between infrastructure and some of the proposed sites. It is good to see the benefit for local communities that would be conferred through enhanced infrastructure and hopefully this would encourage a broader change in attitude toward new development.
It is, however, a pretty weak move towards addressing the housing crisis. More needs to be done to unlock and encourage urban regeneration and development of strategic sites already situated near employment opportunities and with good infrastructure. Garden cities will take a long time to complete and will only solve a fraction of the problem.
Energy and climate change secretary Ed Davey announced the Green Deal Home Improvement Fund would be topped up with an extra £100m, providing property owners with another opportunity to cash in on energy efficiency measures. With little detail announced on how the scheme would work, though, once again doubt was cast over whether this will be the long-term policy solution the industry has been waiting for.
The mansion tax proposals, which comprised adding extra council tax bands onto those already in existence, definitely outshone Labour’s plans to apply a fixed-rate levy on homes over £2m. It was disappointing, though, to see they did not take it further and commit to root and branch council tax reform.
One win for the industry was that the party’s pre-election manifesto, which recognises that a fundamental review of business rates is needed, was passed. That at least shows the party recognises the business rates system is broken. Vince Cable hinted that Osborne could announce relief for SMEs in the Autumn Statement. Although this is welcome, it does nothing to address the inherent unfairness of the current system.
The Lib Dems were certainly on the right track with their policies this year, but those that focus on property need to be bolder if they are to reach the target of building 300,000 homes a year.
Liz Peace is chief executive of the British Property Federation