Manifestos pitch for votes in election build-up
Planning - 22 April 2005
As the battle heats up on the road to the 5 May elections, last week's party manifestos illustrate how the main contenders think that the country should be governed up to 2010.
While tax, spending and the economy dominate the headlines, party policies on planning, housing, transport and the environment will have a huge impact on the changing face of the UK. Labour's 112-page paperback-style manifesto lays out detailed plans for a potential third term.
The party would continue the growth planned in the South East and press ahead with action to renew collapsed housing markets in the north and the Midlands. It also vows to help two million more people become homeowners by the end of its third term.
Labour claims that plans to use surplus public land to build cheaper homes could help more than 15,000 first-time buyers, an attractive proposition for those who are struggling to keep up with house price inflation in London and the South East. The party would offer up to 300,000 council and housing association tenants the chance to buy a share of the equity of their home under the Homebuy scheme.
Increasing the supply and quality of social housing is central to Labour's belief in mixed sustainable communities. An additional 10,000 social homes would be built each year up to 2008, it promises.
The communities plan remains under scrutiny, with many observers claiming that the infrastructure needed to support growth is being overlooked.
Questions are also being asked about the sustainability of Labour's initiatives.
Pledges on transport may go some way to reassuring voters. Investment will continue to increase, with more than £180 billion of public money committed up to 2015. While some road expansion is not ruled out, the manifesto emphasises support for rail services.
Labour also recognises the need to manage road space better, advocating car pool lanes for vehicles carrying more than one passenger and the potential for a national road pricing system. Funding to promote walking and cycling will continue and measures to reduce emissions will be supported, it pledges.
While prime minister Tony Blair has said that climate change is the world's greatest environmental challenge, his party's manifesto has less to say on broad environmental problems.
But its offer includes a "polluter improves" system whereby firms finance land remediation or environmental projects rather than simply paying fines.
It would also ensure that all homes are built to high environmental standards on energy efficiency and water use under the sustainable buildings code.
The Conservative Party's slimline manifesto, a mere 28 pages, aims to appeal to voters by promising to devolve power back to the community.
The Tories vow that local people would have more say over planning decisions, including action against illegal traveller camps.
They would scrap the regional assemblies and transfer responsibilities for strategic planning, transport and housing back to councils. Leader Michael Howard also wants to tighten green belt protection and focus development on brownfield sites.
Homeownership is a central pillar of Tory housing policy. The party would extend the right to buy to housing association tenants and give social housing tenants the right to own a share of their home. On transport, it seeks to appease motorists by modernising the road network and reviewing all speed cameras. Successful rail companies would be given longer franchises.
The Conservatives have been criticised for a lack of commitment to the environment. Their pledge list includes some general green aims for phasing out harmful emissions as well as promoting energy efficiency and renewables.
But lobby groups fear that environmental protection is towards the bottom of the party's priorities.
In contrast, the Liberal Democrats make a point of putting green action at the heart of their policies. In a tabloid-style manifesto, the party pitches itself as a "real alternative" to its two main rivals. But similarities have crept into its agenda.
Like the Conservatives, Charles Kennedy's party wants to see power moved away from Whitehall. It promises to introduce a community planning system to give local people more say, while county councils would resume strategic planning responsibilities from regional bodies.
The Lib Dems insist that they would use public sector land to provide affordable homes, along similar lines to Labour. They also pledge to reform VAT to encourage brownfield development.
The party wants to build one million homes to high environmental standards by 2012 and would not replace nuclear power stations when they reach the end of their life span, a vow unheard of in the Labour and Tory camps.
It aims to include carbon dioxide emission targets in development plans and accounting for climate change in transport policies.
The Lib Dems' plans for longer rail franchises and cutting car tax for green vehicles are consistent with Tory proposals. But they go further by promising to switch funding from roads to public transport and encourage road user charging. They oppose airport expansion and would press for international agreement on extending emissions trading to aviation.
The environmental slant evident in all Green Party policies fills a void for many in the political spectrum. Principal speaker for the Greens Keith Taylor promises a programme for "the next hundred years and not the next hundred days".
It remains to be seen whether the Lib Dems' green offer will appeal to that constituency. Elsewhere, an element of crossover on local governance and affordable homes shows a degree of political consensus.
Many of the parties' promises will depend on economic decisions as well as the guts to pursue far-reaching strategies to tackle the housing crisis, climate change and transport problems. It is down to voters to look at the wider picture and decide which party can really deliver.
PARTY POLITICAL MANIFESTO COMMITMENTS
PLANNING AND GOVERNMENT - Continued housing growth and renewal through the sustainable communities plan. More responsibility for regional assemblies.
HOUSING - Use surplus public land to build homes for 15,000 first-time buyers. Chance to part-buy for 300,000 council and housing association tenants. Extra 10,000 social homes a year by 2008.
TRANSPORT - Increase rail capacity, high-speed trains and rural rail services. Some road building plus car-sharing and national road pricing. Support value-for-money light rail schemes. Continue backing Crossrail.
ENVIRONMENT - Reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent by 2010. Generate 20 per cent of electricity from renewables by 2020. All publicly-funded homes to meet sustainable buildings code by April 2006. More recycling and crackdown on litter, graffiti and fly-tipping.
PLANNING AND GOVERNMENT - Abolish regional assemblies. Return powers to councils. Replace ODPM with local government department. Scrap communities plan. Action on traveller camps.
HOUSING - Extend right to buy for housing association tenants. Right to shared ownership for social housing tenants. Concentrate new-build housing on brownfields. Tighter green belt policy.
TRANSPORT - Modernise road network with road building and widening schemes. Review all speed cameras. Longer rail franchises to improve station facilities.
ENVIRONMENT - Phase out harmful hydrofluorocarbons. More incentives for energy efficient homes. Lower tax on green vehicles. Support renewable energy.
PLANNING AND GOVERNMENT - Introduce community planning system. Cut government departments. Return power to councils and transfer strategic planning to county level.
HOUSING - Use public sector land to build 100,000 affordable homes. Reform VAT to promote brownfield projects. Raise stamp duty threshold to £150,000. Planning control over second homes.
TRANSPORT - Switch road building funding to upgrade railways. Longer rail franchises. Cut car tax for green vehicles and introduce road user charging. Extend emissions trading to aviation. Oppose airport expansion.
ENVIRONMENT - Develop sustainable plans. Reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent by 2010. Generate 20 per cent of electricity from renewables by 2020. One million high environmental quality homes by 2012. No replacement of existing nuclear power stations.