(Bloomberg) -- Bruised by high rates, sticky inflation and planning bottlenecks, real estate investors at a conference in Leeds this week had a pressing new topic on their minds: a snap election in July.

The news filtered through to the roughly 13,000 delegates on Wednesday afternoon as rain lashed down on Leeds Dock. Star guests included deputy Labour Party leader Angela Rayner and Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, who had both banged the drum for housebuilding. 

“If we go at it together, we could significantly loosen the grip of the housing crisis in the next parliament,” Labour’s Burnham said in an interview on the sidelines of the UKREiiF conference. “Whether you could end it — I don’t know — I think within a decade you could.”

The nation’s chronic housing shortage has become a key battleground between the ruling Conservative Party and the opposition Labour Party ahead of the general election. Even before the news of a snap election broke, the conference had found itself as a venue for political campaigning. 

Rayner shared bullish plans to build a new generation of towns to tackle the housing crisis in a packed-out conference room on Tuesday, earning nods of approval with her closing remark of “let’s get Britain building again”. 

The speech prompted an outburst from the Tory Housing Minister Lee Rowley on X. 

Labour’s 20-point polling lead over the ruling Conservatives means investors are keeping a close eye on the party’s housing pledges, including a promise to build an average of 300,000 homes a year over its first term in office. But some market participants aren’t convinced. 

Broker Savills Plc this week predicted that only about 160,000 private homes will be completed on average per year between 2025 and 2028 — warning that planning hurdles are stifling the delivery of new housing. 

Others attendees also expressed concern about other regulatory issues around the corner — from leasehold reforms to the scrapping of multiple dwellings relief. 

“Uncertainty has a price to it,” said Emma Cariaga, head of residential at developer British Land Co. “The trajectory of rates has been a big challenge for the sector, and investors prefer clarity on regulation,” she added.

Some considered the surprise snap election a welcome move. They said they hoped it could accelerate policy decisions and ease the regulatory uncertainty, whoever ended up in power.

‘’Investors are itching to get on with things, so they just want to know now,” said Sophie Rosier, a director at Savills.

But the risk of Labour-imposed rent caps was on many lips.

Labour’s Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves last week said there may be a case for rent controls in some local areas — a move critics say will put off investment. 

Burnham said that “fair regulation” in the private rented sector would be a useful way to tackle the industry’s “wild west,” where some landlords hike bills to extreme levels. He acknowledged concerns around the unintended consequences of any caps, such as in Scotland where recent regulation led to a plunge in development.

“Investors are really spooked by the chance of rent controls,” said Rob Mills, a partner at fund manager Clearbell Capital LLP. “Raising rents is a crucial inflation hedge that investors rely on.”

Still, the mood at UKREiiF was more cautiously optimistic than at the Mipim conference in Cannes in March. The number of delegates in Leeds was almost double compared to the previous year, while there were 50% more speakers — an increase Burnham said shows a strong desire to address the housing shortage.

--With assistance from Thomas Hall and Sam Nagarajan.

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