Doubts remain about whether the Tories have the resolve to drive up delivery, by Richard Garlick

This week in Manchester, the Conservative Party talked a good game about tackling the housing crisis. For those in attendance at the party's annual conference, there was little doubt that the Tories are sincere in their wish to boost the overall supply of housing, not least because it is becoming a critical issue on the doorstep.

Pollsters have demonstrated that this year's general election brought a huge swing to Labour among private renters (see News Analysis). Department for Communities and Local Government ministers took the opportunity to remind their colleagues that, if they could not demonstrate that they were dealing with the issue, their opponents would capitalise. Housing is now "the biggest domestic issue facing us," communities secretary Sajid Javid told conference delegates. "If we don't grip it, then Labour will run away with this issue".

Javid and his team are in some ways taking a courageous line on planning for housing. His backing for the standardised assessment of housing need, which will see requirements rocket in many Tory constituencies, is politically brave, whatever its imperfections. The grumbling from MPs in the shires has already begun, although at the time of writing complaints in Manchester seem to have been pretty subdued.

But doubts still remain about whether the Tories have the resolve needed to drive up housing delivery. The renewed commitment to the Help to Buy scheme, announced in Manchester, felt at the least like a dilution of the Housing White Paper's focus on delivery. Supporters of the scheme argue that it has prompted housing providers to significantly increase their activity, but its critics denounce it as a measure that fuels demand rather than supply.

What's more, our exclusive story, published last week on the eve of the conference, that the introduction of the new housing delivery test has been delayed, raises new doubts about the government's ability to follow through on its promises to push up housebuilding.

The test is intended to assess housing delivery - measured using official figures for net additional dwellings over a three-year period - against councils' housing requirements. The white paper had said that it would be introduced in November 2017. But last week, the DCLG said that it would be introduced next year.

Of course, some slippage in Whitehall timetables is understandable in light of the unexpected general election earlier this year. But the government, and its predecessor coalition government, is beginning to get a reputation for promising to get tough on local planning authorities, and then not following through.

Former planning minister Brandon Lewis's much-vaunted early 2017 deadline for local plan-making passed without so much as a murmur, despite apparent support from his successor Gavin Barwell. Repeated pledges to strip underperforming planning authorIties of planning powers rarely come to anything. In that light, observers could be forgiven for being sceptical about whether the housing delivery test will ever have any teeth.

Richard Garlick, editor, Planning //

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