Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, addresses the Housing 2024 crowd

This year’s Housing 2024 event was set against a backdrop of Labour striding towards its certain victory at the General Election.

Reform is, as we write, making gains in the national polls, but as the most likely candidates for opposition, the Conservative Party, wallows in record lows.

Purdah rules prevented some of the MPs and ministers scheduled to talk from offering their thoughts on the election, or what Labour may or may not do once taking office. 

Speaking in an early session at Housing 2024, recently re-elected Mayor of Greater Manchester and former Secretary of State for Health Andy Burnham spoke to the crowd, who watched on in hope of some insider’s insight into how Labour might approach their time in power.

Andy Burnham on the election, devolution, and more

The election

Discussing the national election, he said, “It’s a difficult climate for all parties, and it’s an election like no other. Politicians haven’t been delivering, and life has felt like it’s been going backwards.

“But, positively, [the likely election result] will bring a clear result and big change. And the change will be substantial – this isn’t a 1997 moment, with an inexperienced government coming in to high expectations, with no regional delivery structure.

“It’s the reverse this time – the expectations are lower, but the delivery systems are ready to go if the government uses them.”

Talking about the likely result, Andy said, “I haven’t seen a collapse of support for a government like this before. It’ll be a clear result that lets the country move on, and it’ll be a big year for housing – 2024 will go down as a change year for housing.”


On how housing will shape our national future

Like many other commenters at Housing 2024, Andy takes time to address right-to-buy.

“We have to have a national conversation about right-to-buy,” he said. “In an era of constrained public resources, how can councils build homes for social rent, when the incomes of those homes can evaporate? We can’t fix the housing crisis without a significant increase in the stock of social rentals.”

Addressing why the conversation fails to materialise, he said, “It’s the way western political culture works.

“It gets trapped in certain positions, it thinks newspapers favour a certain policy and the culture can’t move beyond it.

“There’s a limited discussion of home policy for a long time that has focused on home ownership and nothing else – it’s about optics, messages, winning newspapers – but the actual politics is about dealing with reality.”

That brought Andy to a conversation on how Labour can hope to get to their 1.5m new homes in a parliament term target.

Laying out the crux of the issue, in his opinion, Andy said, “We have a housing crisis because Westminster views it as a commodity that some are lucky to own, some are not. That it’s a market issue and nothing else – that has got us to where we are now.”

“It can’t all be done through green fields,” he continues. “You get there by doing what they did in the 1970s, by building a mix of housing.

According to Andy, this would include turning what he calls “redundant” disused retail space into high-density, efficient housing on brownfield where not much commerce is happening.

Calling it the ‘old town’ strategy, in contrast to the national Labour Party’s new town strategy, he said, “Pretty much everywhere in the north of England you can find struggling retail areas, where you can build high density, high-quality accommodation to bring a new twenty-something working demographic who in turn bring the businesses that want to serve them.”

Andy linked this directly to economic growth, saying, “Greater Manchester is growing faster than the United Kingdom’s economy.

“If growth is the mission, if all departments are banking on creating a lot of growth, housebuilding has to be a big part of that.”


On the future of devolved powers

After mentioning the ready-to-go nature of devolved power networks early in his talk, Andy goes on to stress that the future of devolved power isn’t asking for more money from central government.

In fact, he stresses the point that devolved powers may have to be honest about raising tax rates to see through the services they want – something that Andy claims happened in Manchester.

Rather than asking for more funding, he sees the future as asking for responsibility – one example for the future of Manchester is taking ownership of poorly-maintained train networks and the land around them.

“We would rather have public land than money,” he said. “Devolve train stations to us, and we can build homes around public transport instead of cars, and maybe improve the stations.

“Devolution can offer better, cheaper options that [local authorities] can subsidise, providing a cheaper service that offers higher upsides by increasing volume on services.”

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