YIMBY v NIMBY – Battle for the future of UK housing

Our Policy Executive, Jack Clappen, looks at the key takeaways from the 2023 party conference season and what it means for the timber industry. 

Housing is set to be a key battleground in the 2024 election, with renters, home-owners, and new buyers all struggling amidst a cost-of-living crisis.

Rents are up 5.5% in the year to August – the largest increase since the ONS started tracking rents in 2016. Borrowing costs have risen to 5.25%, with the Bank of England warning it is yet to full hit household incomes.

We wanted to take a closer look at what each Party was saying on housing – and what that might mean for our industry.

Keir Starmer goes full ‘YIMBY’, as Labour gets serious on housing

The Labour Party has promised to tackle the housing crisis head on by building 1.5 million homes over the course of the next parliament – reviving the target previously maintained by Boris Johnson’s Government – with Keir Starmer declaring himself a ‘house building YIMBY’.

Labour have promised to do this by overhauling the planning system, allowing for more building in “grey belt” areas (brownfield sites on green belt land). He pledged to build a new generation of towns in these areas and get tough on NIMBY MPs and councils, something the Conservatives have proved unable to do thus far.

Housing is very much a core driver of timber demand in the UK, with the TDUK stats regularly showing a positive correlation between private housing and structural timber imports.

Planning reform is not a magic bullet to the housing crisis, particularly in a time of high interest rates and inflation. What it may do, however, is provide the sector with a much-needed supply-side boost, allowing for more homes to be built in the areas that need them most.

The focus on brownfield development must also be viewed as good news for our industry. Timber homes require fewer deliveries, less labour onsite and are often quieter to assemble than steel and concrete buildings, making it ideal for urban or “grey belt” housing developments.

We will look to engage with the Labour Party further on this issue, delving into environmental standards (which were not mentioned) and highlighting where timber can help build high quality, low-carbon homes in the UK.

Return of the king(makers)?

The Liberal Democrat party conference reaffirmed their position as an electoral force in British politics once again.

Though unlikely to win the election, they are set to take several seats from the Conservatives in England, making them potential kingmakers if Labour fall short of a majority.

The Lib Dems have traditionally been a party of local NIMBY interests and have proved a major barrier to both housing and infrastructure development in the UK. This was seen most recently in the Chesham and Amersham by-election.

However, at the party conference, they announced the most ambitious targets out of the major parties, promising 380,000 homes a year if elected. More importantly however, there was a specific focus on MMC with their conference paper promising “significant purchases of MMC homes” in their social housing programme.

With its low embodied carbon and excellent versatility, timber is the ultimate MMC material, capable of building an abundance of high-quality, green homes in the UK.

This is welcome news for our industry from a party who could prove politically influential post-2024.

Conservative minds seem elsewhere

The Conservative Party conference in Manchester lacked the energy and optimism seen from the other major parties. There was a sense within the party that after thirteen years in government, the party is struggling to excite a restless electorate.

Conservative Party conferences are usually light on policy however this year was the exception. During his speech, Rishi Sunak made big announcements on HS2, smoking and education in a bid to drive a wedge between him and Starmer. Though bold, it has yet to translate into tangible gains in the polls.

Though heavy on policy, the conference was limited from a timber perspective, with housing relegated to fringe events and rarely mentioned by senior ministers. More concerning has been the scrapping of several net zero policies, as the Government seems to wind down their near-term ambitions.

There were positive signs that the Conservatives would focus on housing pre-election following a policy announcement last month. However, with not one housing mention from Rishi Sunak in his speech, it appears Conservative minds are elsewhere heading into 2024.

Regardless of this, the Conservatives deserve some credit, having embarked on the creation of the Timber in Construction Policy Roadmap which is set to be released next month.

Keep an eye on the TDUK and CTI LinkedIn and X pages for more policy updates.