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By Michelle Quan

Director, Boyer


Labour faces barriers to 'getting Britain building'

After much anticipation, the Labour Manifesto for ‘Change’ was launched this week. Held in Manchester the launch event included personal reflections from several Labour supporters, including testimonials of the struggles currently faced trying to secure home ownership and the need for more housing to build better communities and a better society.

It is, therefore, not surprising that the Labour Manifesto features housebuilding and the planning system prominently within its election pledges.

The Manifesto is built upon five key missions namely:
1)            Kickstarting Economic Growth
2)            Making Britain a Clean Energy Superpower
3)            Taking Back Our Streets
4)            Breaking Down Barriers to Opportunity; and
5)            Building an NHS Fit for the Future.


All of these missions will require a planning system to support the delivery of future growth and the associated infrastructure, which is capable of meeting the aspirations of the Labour Party swiftly and efficiently.

Turning to housebuilding specifically, Labour is committed to delivering 1.5 million new homes and identify the current housing crisis as one of the largest barriers to growth. Addressing this barrier will, therefore, be fundamental in the delivery of the first mission of the Labour Government – kickstarting economic growth.

Formal consultation

To deliver the growth it is seeking, Labour has identified a number of barriers in the planning system it would seek to address.

This includes immediately updating the National Policy Planning Framework to ‘undo damaging Conservative changes’. It is unclear whether this would be the immediate ‘repealing’ of the December 2023 NPPF and a reversion to a previous version in the interim. However, inevitably any more fundamental changes, such as the strengthening of the presumption in favour of sustainable development, are likely to require formal consultation and consideration, which calls into question the ‘immediacy’ of this change.

Reference is also made to taking ‘tough action’ to ensure up to date Local Plans are in place. Whilst the planning system is underpinned by the principle of being led by up to date Development Plans, it is estimated that by the end of 2025, 78% of English councils will have an out of date Local Plan. It is therefore unclear what any such sanctions would entail and indeed to what extent they would have the effect of addressing this substantial backlog, especially given the tendency for Plan-making to slow or pause in the face of substantial political changes to the planning system.

Resourcing in the planning system is addressed through a commitment to support local authorities through the funding of additional planning officers. Whilst a funding source is identified in the manifesto (stamp duty surcharges from non-UK residents) as we have seen with numerous financial commitments to the planning system, without any form of ring fencing to protect the funding, the extent to which this additional funding achieves its purpose will remain to be seen.

As with all of the political parties, the manifesto is committed to a brownfield first approach and proposes fast tracking the approval of urban brownfield sites. There is no further detail on this topic – but previous initiatives including Brownfield Registers have arguably yet to make any significant changes in brownfield delivery.

The manifesto does however, explicitly acknowledge that this will not be enough on its own to meet housing needs and yet immediately a commitment to preserving the Green Belt is re-iterated. The dichotomy of this relationship and the consequences it places on housing delivery will be an important issue to be tackled if Labour is going to meet its housing targets.

The manifesto makes references to ‘a more strategic approach to greenbelt land designation and release’ but the text which follows repeats the previously identified proposal of ‘grey belt’. The extent to which this represents any significant change in position on Green Belt or indeed will result in significant additional homes being delivered remains to be seen. However, the manifesto doesn’t suggest a radical change in position here. We could, however, perhaps see Labour explore this further in future consultations should they secure election victory rather than grappling with such a divisive issue from the outset.

Slow to deliver

As expected, the manifesto commits to the delivery of a ‘new generation of new towns’ which will form part of a series of large scale communities across England. Labour acknowledge that housing growth cannot be met without delivery on this scale and we see references to ‘cross boundary strategic planning’ – in a possible return to Regional Plans and perhaps even the duty to co-operate?

However, as those in the planning and housebuilding industries are aware, whilst New Towns offer many benefits, particularly in terms of comprehensive masterplanning and infrastructure delivery, the reality is that they are complex and often slow to deliver. It is therefore, unlikely that these will result in any fundamental shift in the housebuilding crisis in the short term. They are however, welcomed as a long-term measure for addressing housing delivery but need to be part of a wider package of measures to ‘kick start the economy’.

The delivery of affordable housing also features strongly in the manifesto, alongside commitments to “high quality, well designed and sustainable homes” which incorporate “climate resilience and nature recovery”. In the current market, with rising building costs and increasing obligations and financial burdens the viability of affordable housing continues to be under rising pressures – inevitably Labour will therefore, have to grapple with their priorities and whether their mission to kickstart growth can sufficiently improve the viability of many currently stalled projects.

The manifesto also makes commitments to further reform compulsory purchase rules in order to speed up housing and infrastructure delivery. However, the reality is that this process is so complex and its application is so limited that its ability to be transformational in terms of future delivery would require some fundamental changes.

Overall, whilst the Labour manifesto is packaged as a plan for change – in many ways the emphasis is on returning to a number of previous policies and strategies, all with the ambition of ‘Getting Britain Building’. These include cross boundary strategic planning, New Towns, mandatory housing targets and the presumption in favour of sustainable development. Whilst there are some new ideas including ‘grey belt’ – the fundamental protections of Green Belt policy remain and the Manifesto did not include any unexpected or radical commitments. Addressing the ‘blockers of growth’ will be fundamental in addressing the housing crisis and securing the economic growth the manifesto seeks – the planning system will be a key element of this – but it remains to be seen whether the manifesto pledges will go far enough to address the critical issues we face.


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