May Day, May Day – Labour’s Proposed Approach To Planning Reform

Brave timing, with local elections this week, but it is helpful finally to see some detail today as to Labour’s proposed approach to planning reform in today’s Times piece, Starmer’s growth plan is built on houses (The Times, 1 May 2023 – behind paywall):

“Labour will pledge to restore housebuilding targets and hand more power to local authorities; promise 70 per cent home ownership and hundreds of thousands of new council homes. Given the resistance of so many local authorities to development, that may sound like a contradiction in terms. But I’m told a Starmer government would wield both carrot and stick: councils would be made to work together to come up with plans for development at a regional level, spreading a burden few want to shoulder individually, with cash and infrastructure as the prize for new housing. (Bafflingly, they are under no obligation to work together now.) If proposed developments meet the standards set out in those local plans, they will be approved. So no longer would each town hall have to agree to what one senior Labour source calls “shitty speculative developments” to meet targets arbitrarily imposed upon them. But nor will they be allowed to opt out of building either.

Starmer’s government would also look anew at the green belt, swathes of which — including a petrol station in Tottenham Hale, north London — are neither green nor pleasant. Those sites would be liberated. Not all politics is local, however. We can also expect to hear more about national projects, driven from the centre too: intensive development on the 50-mile Oxford-Cambridge Arc and a generation of new towns are all under discussion as Starmer’s aides work up plans to be announced at Labour conference in September.”

See also:

Scrapping housebuilding targets could cost tenants £200 a year by 2030 – Labour (The Observer, 30 April 2023)

Keir Starmer: ‘I want Labour to be the party of home ownership’  (Guardian, 29 April 2023)

Obviously, more detail is needed and some policy nuances are lost in this summary – for instance:

  • We still do have targets, it’s just that they will become even more of an advisory starting point than at present.
  • We still have the duty to cooperate, indeed it seems from a Planning Resource story this week it seems that there may even be a re-think as to its replacement, in relation to housing numbers as opposed to infrastructure and nature strategies, by some vague alignment approach. 

But, really, contrast even this thumbnail sketch of Labour thinking with new housing and planning minister’s Rachel Mcclean’s rather defensive and dare I say it unimpressive appearance before Select Committee  this week. Much unsubstantiated assertion, much “we’ll come back to you on that”. NB Advice to any politician, never question Lichfields’ research – you won’t win! 

See for example:

Minister denies planning reforms will stymie homes growth (Housing Today, 25 April 2023)

A full transcript of her appearance is here.

Turn away if you feel uncomfortable about use of the B word, but… 

I was as unconvinced by her explaining away the current wave of local planning authorities which have paused local plan production as I was later in the week during her appearance on BBC’s Question Time when she became animated in response to someone who asserted that Brexit was one of the causes for this country’s current poor economic performance. 

Recognise the issues, own them!

On reflection, perhaps Labour’s unveiling of its approach to housing and planning has come at precisely the right time (although I won’t let that party off the hook on Brexit either…)

Simon Ricketts, 1 May 2023

Personal views, et cetera

Author: simonicity

Partner at boutique planning law firm, Town Legal LLP, but this blog represents my personal views only.

One thought on “May Day, May Day – Labour’s Proposed Approach To Planning Reform”

  1. Strategy is always the easy bit and it is what management consultants specialise in. They’re not too hot on implementation. Nor are political parties. Especially in election mode. With current build rates by the private sector,
    which are shrinking by the day, we will need at least 180,000 publically-built houses as we had in the 1960s and 1960s during the heyday of Labour rule. So I would ask Sir Kier (and Michael): how exactly will this be funded and where exactly will they be built? Answers on a postcard.


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