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YIMBYs make waves at the Lib Dem Conference


With administrations across the country opting to pause and delay their Local Plan process, and accusations of NIMBYism from other major parties and some in the sector, conveying the sense that the Liberal Democrats are serious about tackling the housing crisis has seemed increasingly difficult over the past 12 months.

This was made even more stark when the party’s leadership put forward a motion to this year’s Conference to essentially remove the national housing target of 380,000 homes per year, replacing it with local targets.

The party’s first Conference held in person since 2019, there was a clear air of excitement. Amid debates, motions and fringe events on a range of important issues – from period poverty and education to childcare and electoral reform – the built environment appeared to take centre stage.

The Conference heard from the Leader of Eastleigh Borough Council, Cllr Keith House, and Vistry Group’s Andrew Taylor on the need for local authorities and developers to work together to drive positive local development. We heard from a host of local authority leaders on how to breathe new life into town centres and high streets and from a panel of industry leaders, including Thakeham’s Tristan Robinson on policy solutions to tackle the housing crisis while delivering net zero homes.

Leading homelessness charity Shelter also hosted a reception with Helen Morgan MP, the party’s Spokesperson for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, calling for change amid a lack of social housing nationally, with over 127,000 children in temporary accommodation.

It was the recognised need to deliver more social housing across the country that seemed to drive the party’s decision to call, as part of its policy motion on tackling the housing crisis, for 150,000 social and council homes per year by the end of the next parliament.

But hold on, do national targets work or do they not? As the argument put forward by the party’s leadership suggested, as evidenced by a lack of sufficient housing delivery in recent years and the failure to meet such targets, they have not.

It was for this reason that, rather than setting targets nationally, it called for a new bottom-up approach to housing targets, with ‘robust, independently-assessed local housing targets that are appropriate for the specific areas’ needs, including expected population changes’.

In step Young Liberals and 149 other party members, tabled an amendment for the party to ‘maintain its commitment to a national housing target of 380,000 homes per year, to set a clear direction of travel and to indicate serious intent to address the housing crisis’.

Or, as the T-Shirts being sold by the Young Liberals in the exhibition hall rather simply put their call to action, ‘build more bloody houses’.

Just shy of 100 speaker cards were submitted to speak during the hour-and-a-half-long debate (one of the longest of the entire weekend) on Monday afternoon, with delegates packing out the BIC auditorium eager to watch the action unfold and have their say on the party’s policy on what is evidently a top priority on the political agenda – housing.

The debate on the amendment saw a host of impassioned, articulate and bold speeches on both sides from politicians, candidates and party members up and down the country, with an incredible summation by Cllr Stephen Robinson, the Leader of Chelmsford City Council. Amid an atmosphere of trepidation in the auditorium, the amendment was passed.

Regardless which way the votes on the amendment and wider motion were to go, what was evident to me across the weekend was the clear recognition of the need to deliver on housing.

There will, I’m sure, continue to be debate within the party around how local housing need is calculated, how we can ensure new developments meets bold sustainability aspirations, and exactly where such new development should go. But to label the entire party with one broad stroke of the brush would be to misunderstand their approach.

If nothing else, this weekend has strengthened my belief that striving for a society which is more socially liberal, tolerant and fair is not at odds with tackling the housing crisis. As colleagues across the party proved this weekend, we can do both.

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