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Election Digest: Things can only get bet-ter 🎰

Reflections

A police officer, a campaign director and a candidate walk into a betting shop…

If you’ve been feeling like this election campaign has felt like a whole new series of The Thick of It, you’re not alone, but it’s certainly been far from a joke.

The gamble-gate betting saga left the Tories’ election campaign in a flutter this week after dozens of alleged bets were placed on the timing of the election. And now Labour are at it, too…

Whilst the main parties headed down to the bookies, it seemed Farage was playing Russian Roulette at the weekend, claiming the West provoked Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It saw Reform UK fall 3 points in some polls over the weekend.

With voting day edging ever closer, we thought the odds of another political catastrophe would be stacked against us. But if this campaign is anything to go by, we wouldn’t bet our house on it.

With trust in politics in the doldrums, moving decisions out of Westminster into local authorities through devolution seems like a bright idea – one which could have a significant impact on the built environment.

That’s why this week, we look at what the parties have pledged when it comes to devolution, lift the lid on the sector’s major updates and explore what’s going on across the regions.

Concrete plans…

Our top built environment updates for the week:

🥇 – DLUHC’s data shows the English councils with the highest and lowest application approval rates in 2023/24. Of the 20 authorities with the lowest % of decisions granted, 19 are in London, South East and East of England.

📖 – From housing numbers and national infrastructure to the environment and affordable housing, Planning Resource has brought together all the major parties’ manifesto pledges – it’s a handy must-read in the week before the election.

🤨 – At the start of the election period, the Planning Inspectorate  (PINS) said it would postpone politically sensitive decisions. It seems local authorities are following suit by delaying their own local plans until after the general election, which includes Leicester, Stockport, Bromsgrove, Isle of Wight, Uttlesford, York and Horsham councils.

🏡 – The Sottish Government has released figures which show the number of homes completed last year fell by 17%, the lowest since 2020-2021.

Local lowdown

East of England – A real shift in the mood for the Tories suggests large-scale losses in the Thames Estuary, along the Essex coast and even up to Suffolk. More and more resources are being poured into their campaigns in formerly plush seats such as North West Essex, Witham, West Suffolk and Bury St Eds. If there’s one thing working in their favour, though, perhaps it’s that the Labour candidate for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich betting that he’d lose his seat. He’s been suspended by Labour HQ whilst an investigation is undertaken.

London – With every poll suggesting the Conservatives are losing support in London, Sunak made a final pitch to the Capital’s voters this week. He acknowledged the extent of the housing crisis in the City, saying that the Conservatives would increase density in development in inner London to levels similar to Barcelona and Paris.  He also pledged to follow through with projects in Thamesmead, Old Oak Common and Euston. Labour has focused on supporting renters by stating one of their first acts in Government would be to pass laws banning no-fault evictions.

Midlands – If you are looking for a bellwether Midlands city in this election, keep a close eye on Wolverhampton. The city is home to three constituencies, all of which have been historically dominated by the Labour Party. 2019 saw the tides turn in favour of the Conservatives, with the party victorious in two of the seats. Recent polls have Labour comfortably ahead in all three. Should that prediction bear out on election night, it may well be seen as a harbinger of a Labour landslide.

North – The big news this week in the North is the surge from Reform. The latest polling figures from Electoral Calculus suggest they could draw in more voters across Yorkshire and the Humber than the Conservatives. Whilst it’s unlikely to translate into any seats, it will no doubt prove decisive in several constituencies, with the party splitting the right-wing vote. This could allow Labour to win seats like Shipley or Scarborough and Whitby for the first time since the halcyon days of New Labour. The Conservatives meanwhile could be left with as little as four seats across the region, a far cry from the 27 they won in 2019.

South East – We will look at this election for two key reasons – the historic nature of the Tories’ defeat, but perhaps more importantly, the lack of scrutiny that was placed on the incoming Labour government. For those in the South East, Councillors will be wary of Labour’s manifesto commitment to “take a more strategic approach to greenbelt land designation and release to build more homes in the right places”, which sounds a lot like a return to regional or even central planning. In some Councils, Chief Executives are already starting to prepare for a Labour government’s first 100 days.

South West – Labour has been directing its well-greased ground campaign away from Liberal Democrat battleground seats. Polls which revealed surprise wins for Labour in places like Bridgwater and Central Devon haven’t tempted the party to turn up the heat but instead, they’re directing campaigners to seats elsewhere. It’s reminiscent of the agreement by Tony Blair and Paddy Ashdown to cause maximum damage to the Conservatives. A fresh clutch of Liberal Democrat MPs will add to their growing influence across local planning authorities in the region which will provide a potential counter to Labour’s housing revolution.

A spotlight on devolution

This week, we look at what the parties have to say about devolution and what it could all mean for the built environment.

What the parties are saying:

Labour

Labour’s manifesto pledges to: “Provide capacity and support to councils… so taxpayers get better value for money,”. The document lays out plans for achieving “landmark devolution legislation” which will “transfer power out of Westminster, and into our communities”.

Alongside funding, the manifesto says the party will establish a new Council of the Nations and Regions, which will reset devolution by bringing together central government and the leaders of the devolved nations and regions.

To encourage greater collaboration between local government and the nations, it would also see elected mayors of combined authorities join the panel with First Ministers. Other plans include further powers for housing and planning, requiring mayors and combined authorities to put in place strategic plans for local housing growth.

Conservatives

The Conservative manifesto pledges to offer devolution to “every part of England that wants it by 2030”. Starting with the Tees Valley, they’ve said they would provide level four devolved powers to those with a directly elected mayor, giving a separate pot of funding for regeneration and housing.

Following parts of HS2 being cancelled, they’ve also pledged to make £4.7 billion of investment. In an echo of the Northern Powerhouse, the money will be put into smaller cities, towns and also rural areas across the North and Mids, for authorities to spend on transport strategies.

Liberal Democrats 

Ed Davey said the Lib Dems would hand more powers and resources to local councils for local net zero strategies. They will also end the top-down approach of reorganising councils and imposing elected mayors, especially on communities who do not want them (read Bristol).

Noting councils can better control the services “that matter to [local people] most”, they have pledged multi-year funding for councils in a hope for more decisions on local issues to be moved away from Westminster.

The manifesto also outlines how community assets will be protected by joining up local/national governments, in a bid to shore up: “pubs, community farms and other vital infrastructure”.

Reform UK

Whilst it’s been prominent in the main parties’ manifestos, there is a distinct lack of devolution being mentioned in Farage’s ‘contract’ document. It does however refer to “wasteful spending” in government departments and suggests £91 billion could be saved by cutting them.

Green Party

The party manifesto says the Greens “believe all communities should make their own decisions… Local authorities need to be given the powers and the resources to do the things their communities need them to do.”

The party wants to provide an additional £5 billion in local government funding a year to tackle an “under-funding crisis” in local authorities.

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