Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak, c Flickr accounts Keir Starmer and Number via CC BY NC ND . SLASH heHCq ()

Credit: Flickr accounts Keir Starmer and Number 10 via CC BY NC-ND 2.0,

The Pulse | Grey Belt, interest rates, and defence tactics

The Pulse square ()Election day is speeding towards us. It has been a quintessential week of British politics: the battle buses are on the roads, milkshakes are being thrown, and party leaders are squabbling about taxes.

Welcome to The Pulse, your weekly run-down on the election campaign and how its developments impact the North and its property sector. With four weeks to go, here’s the latest.

Grey Belt’s in, Green Belt’s out

Housing was not the focus of the first party leader debate on Tuesday, but the nod it did receive gave Labour leader Keir Starmer time to double down on his pledge to build 1.5m new homes to ease supply pressures in the housing market. His proposed planning reforms will allow construction on Grey Belt – brownfield land that has Green Belt status. Starmer wants to utilise disused carparks and overgrown neglected sites to build new homes, with 50% reserved as affordable housing. The party’s approach is brownfield first, Grey Belt second, with a wider view to improve “genuine green spaces”.

The Conservatives, on the other hand, have pledged to give £20m to 30 towns across the nation, including Preston, Wythenshawe, Thornaby-on-Tees, Halifax, and Fleetwood. As for solving the housing crisis – Sunak took his time in the debate to promote the idea that reducing the tax burden is the most practical way to get younger people onto the property ladder.

Noncommittal Rayner

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner has refused to commit to the widening of the A1 road in Northumberland. She did not want to “overpromise” on a Tory project that was granted final consent days after Sunak called the election.

The dualling scheme has been long awaited, but Rayner believes the nation’s public finances will need to be assessed before she committed to continuing the road expansion between Morpeth and Ellingham.

The road was promised by Sunak as part of his Network North programme, which as Place readers know came after the cancellation of the Northern leg of HS2. The dualling of the A1 has been in the pipeline now for more than three years but now the approximately 13 miles of carriageway may not be widened after all.

Farage swaps Mar-a-Lago for Clacton-on-Sea

Nigel Farage announced he would run for parliament as the Reform UK leader – a dramatic U-turn after he had said his focus would be on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in the US. Farage will campaign in Clacton, Essex, famously the single seat UKIP won under his leadership in 2015. Predicting a Labour government, he wants Reform to be in opposition.

Tories in the red wall seats are threatened, worried right-wing voters may be galvanised by Farage’s leadership. Polling for Reform hovers around 18% in these Midlands and Northern seats, opposed to 44% for Labour.

Farage has ruled out any election deal with the Conservative Party. Tory defense secretary Grant Shapps has pleaded with voters who are tempted by Reform, suggesting they will only facilitate a Labour landslide – thus demonstrating how perilous the situation is for Tories in red wall seats.

Concerned about the shade of his blue, the Tory candidate for High Peak, Robert Largan, even shared social media posts donning the Reform UK banner, and surprisingly a Labour post too – perhaps to deploy if there are any milkshake throwers on his campaign trail.

Interest rate promises

Sunak has claimed that a vote for the Conservatives is a vote for lower interest rates. The current level of 5.25% is the highest for 16 years, although rates are expected to fall in line with lower energy prices over the summer.

Michael Saunders, a previous member of the Monetary Policy Committee and now a senior advisor at Oxford Economics, labelled Sunak’s comments as “nonsense” – stating that the responsibility for interest rate cuts rests with the Bank of England alone, which has been independent from government since 1998.

Sunak stated he leads the party who has “committed to bringing down inflation.” Sceptics believe he is underplaying the influence of global external factors.

Zero commitments

At the first debate, Sunak insisted he was committed to net zero, but that the problem is not solely a British one, indicating more must be done globally.

Starmer instead presented the challenge as an opportunity for investment, touting his Great British Energy plan of a publicly owned “clean power” company, headquartered in Scotland. At the Cumberland Economic Summit in March, Ed Milliband echoed the sentiment, making promises of £13.2bn for tackling fuel poverty through home insulation and a £1.8bn injection to upgrade ports, of which the Port of Workington was identified as an “ideal candidate.”

Both parties agree nuclear energy should be part of green plans – a move that will no doubt please fans of a new plant at Wylfa in Anglesey, or those hoping for small modular nuclear reactors in Teesside and Carlisle.

Defence tactics

Starmer has sought to re-establish his party as pro-Trident, citing nuclear deterrence as the “foundation” of national security and announcing a ‘triple-lock’ commitment to the UK nuclear submarine programme.

While in Barrow-on-Furness, he promoted the construction of four new nuclear submarines both as a means of local investment and national defence. He stated: “Labour will set a higher bar for any decisions to buy abroad,” arguing the Tories have been too keen to do so, damaging the British arms industry.

In April, Sunak expressed his desire to increase military spending by an additional £75bn over six years, to 2.5% of GDP by 2030. Both parties are keen to demonstrate they are prioritising defence spending in an evermore volatile world.

Paving the way forward

With the General Election on the horizon, the Institution of Civil Engineers has promoted its list of seven ‘Day 1’ priorities for the incoming Parliament.

The seven points highlight the urgent need for cross-party consensus to ensure sufficient infrastructure is in place to reach net zero. The priorities range from public engagement strategies to both emphasise the benefits of net zero and incentivise public transport usage, to the quickening of freight decarbonisation and the establishment of a new urban tram delivery system.

Also on the list is reducing the emissions of the construction industry through sustainable practices, the optimisation of the energy supply and policies to reduce heating costs of buildings, particularly social housing.

Have you seen an election news item you think should be on The Pulse? Email [email protected]

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