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Rural views on the Conservative manifesto

Posted on 12 June 2024

The Conservative manifesto promises a few new policies that would affect rural landowners, alongside as doubling down on existing policies from their current term in government.

The manifesto outlines a plan to construct 1.6 million new homes in England – presumably over a five year term, so 320,000 a year (vs the Liberal Democrats' 380,000). The Conservatives' plan is focused on protecting the green belt, building instead on brownfield land and inner London. That said, those with strategic land will be relieved to see references to supporting smaller housebuilders by requiring councils to allocate land and reduce s106 burdens, though the pledge to boost affordable housing in rural areas could affect returns from sites currently being promoted. Finally, in what may be a welcome move for some struggling to secure consents in some regions but a blow for environmentalists, the Conservatives are pledging to abolish nutrient neutrality to unlock the construction of 100,000 new homes.

For prospective buyers, the manifesto makes permanent the increased Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) threshold for first-time buyers and introduces a new Help to Buy scheme. Interestingly, it also proposes a two-year temporary Capital Gains Tax (CGT) relief for landlords who sell to their existing tenants. This could provide an opportunity for estates looking to raise capital, though feels fraught with scope for complex anti-avoidance provisions. It also includes promises not to increase council tax bands or cut council tax discounts – a stark contrast to the Lib Dems' proposed scope to increase council tax on second homes by up to 500%. The Conservatives include an express pledge to preserve the existing suite of tax reliefs, including Agricultural Property Relief (APR) and Business Relief (formerly known as Business Property Relief or BPR).

For the landlords not already tempted to sell to their tenants by the CGT relief, there is a continued drive towards increasing protection for residential tenants. Alongside furthering the existing Renters Reform Bill proposals, the manifesto promises an end to the "misuse of forfeiture". Forfeiture is a key part of the package means of enforcement to secure leaseholders' obligations. Whilst those immediate affected may be those with freehold reversion portfolios, all leaseholders may in turn suffer, as the landlord may have to resort to slower and more costly means to bring a problem or defaulting leaseholder into line.

Turning to farming, food security is high on the Conservatives' agenda. The farming budget is set to increase to £1 billion, with a focus on directing funds to farming communities and supporting local food procurement. The manifesto introduces a legally binding target for UK-wide food security to run alongside the food security index. The Conservatives also seeks to prioritise technology in farming via an agritech "Farming Innovation Fund" and investment in agri-food careers and skills to reduce reliance on seasonal migrant labour. Seasonal migrant labour will be reduced over time via a five-year tapered visa scheme.

In environmental terms, the Conservatives plan to improve the accountability of the Environmental Agency and Natural England and provide them with clear, specific objectives – though how this would translate into practice is hard to say. The manifesto promises to build flood resilience, invest in river restoration along the lines of the Wyescapes project, and create an eleventh National Park. Whilst promising to increase the number of 'access to nature' routes, the Conservatives have included a pledge not to impose a universal right to roam.

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