Sir Keir Starmer delivered a speech at his Labour Party’s annual conference yesterday that has been broadly welcomed by the property industry.
The opposition leader told delegates that the tide is turning towards Labour as he set his sights on power in a bid to rescue a country “ruined” by 13 years of Conservative rule.
Sir Keir pledged to deliver a “decade of national renewal”, suggesting his party is aiming for at least two terms in power, as he unveiled plans to significantly boost the supply of the new housing.
He promised to accelerate building on unused urban land to create the “next generation of New Towns” near English cities.
Sir Keir repeatedly referred to the housing crisis, and said he will commit to developing one and a half million more affordable first homes in urban areas by building on brownfield sites, as he vowed to ‘get Britain building again’.
The Labour leader also pledged to commit to protect the green belt while accusing the Tories of failing to deal with the ‘grey belt’ of unused areas that have been neglected over the last 13 years.
He pointed out that more housing was a central part of delivering economic growth.
Sir Keir promised to “bulldoze” through planning law and relax regulation to allow the “security of home ownership”.
Labour sources say the aim to set out national standards for five-storey Georgian-style townhouse blocks. Developers would be more likely to be granted planning permission on brownfield sites if they adhere to them.
Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation, commented: “Politicians of all parties now recognise the central role of an efficient and effective planning system to deliver infrastructure, thriving communities, decent homes and jobs. We welcome Labour’s focus on planning and housing in Liverpool this week and their commitment to a clear target for delivering homes of all tenures.
“Billions of pounds of investment can be unlocked by accelerating the development of brownfield sites and we look forward to discussing the detail of the proposed ‘planning passports’ with Labour to ensure that we maximise their potential to accelerate development and deliver high quality homes and amenities that meet local needs.
“Our members invest for the long term and the vision of a new generation of thriving new towns is one we support as part of a comprehensive strategy to build the homes and sustainable communities the country needs.”
Nathan Emerson, CEO at Propertymark, said: “Propertymark encourages the future UK Government to increase development on brownfield land within city and town centres, especially where there is already a high demand for housing.
“Therefore, Propertymark welcomes Labour’s commitment to build more homes on brownfield sites, and we urge them to clarify how they will meet this ambition. It is the key to constructing the housing infrastructure this country desperately needs.”
Nick Sanderson, CEO of Audley Group, said: “Keir Starmer focused today on building more houses. He is right that we need more housing availability, but not that we need more bricks and mortar. Whole swathes of new towns springing up will do less to ‘build a new Britain’ than would freeing up the many under-occupied houses that already exist.
“We have a growing older population and there is enormous demand for more specialist retirement housing, with health and welling services on site. Focus on meeting that demand, and you increase flow in the housing market automatically for first time buyers.”
Claire Petricca-Riding, head of planning & environment at Irwin Mitchell, commented: “What the country needs is a vision, a strategy showing a new direction after the cancelling of HS2 or what some have described as ‘cancelling the future’. What Labour says it will provide is the framework to build a new Britain and at the heart of it will be the increase in housing – providing a safe home for all generations – to get Britain building over the next decade – a decade of national renewal.
“The plan? To create 1.5 million homes over the next Parliament – to buy or rent – with communities having a say on how these homes should be delivered.
“This will mean a new generation of new towns near cities and the release of land in the not so green –- all the shades of grey – green belt as well as providing additional powers to local authorities and establishing a new presumption in favour of development or a ‘planning passport’ on brownfield;as long as design principles are met.
“This will be welcome news to a sector where the last year of uncertainty, raising inflation and interest rates as well as the near collapse of local plans means that planning applications for housing developments have fallen to a record low.
“It is certainly a bold statement from the opposition – selling a vision and strategy – ‘Together we fix tomorrow’s challenges today’.”
Roger Mortlock, chief executive, CPRE, said: “There is lots to welcome in Labour’s brownfield-first approach and densification of our towns and cities. The Labour Leader is right to highlight that un-adopted Local Plans are leading to speculative, unsustainable development which are ‘potholing’ the Green Belt and our countryside.
“Brownfield land can provide room for 1.2 million new homes and before we start thinking about a new generation of New Towns, we need to make sure we’ve exhausted the un-tapped potential of brownfield land.
“The Green Belt will be critical to deliver solutions to the nature and climate crisis. While sustainable development on brownfield land in the Green Belt can be part of the solution, we challenge the idea that ‘grey’ belt land should include areas of scrubland that should be restored to enhance nature support natural solutions to the climate crisis.
“Alongside these announcements, we need to match the ambition of the post war Labour Government in protecting our countryside and restoring nature.”
Olivia Harris, chief executive, Dolphin Living, said: “While we clearly welcome the strong emphasis placed on housing and the delivery of more affordable homes by the Labour Party, there needs to be greater focus on ensuring that the proposals deliver a broad range of new homes, not just social or market housing. Intermediate housing, such as discount market rent, has a critical role to play in not only ensuring we have the capacity to grow our economy through retaining economically key workers, but is vital to supporting our public services like the NHS. We already have strong relationships with Labour local authorities and the Mayor of London who understand the importance of such housing and we will be vital partners in ensuring that any housing proposals are a success.”
Marc Vlessing, CEX, Pocket Living, added: “It’s clear that Labour finally seems to get housing and the imperative for radical reform of the planning system and the arcane position around legal challenge. This is vital if the UK is to return to a positive trajectory of economic growth and rising prosperity. By making housing centre stage we are seeing a clear commitment to both expanding the supply of new homes, but also making them more affordable. This is critical, especially in London and other major cities where key ‘city-makers’ are literally being driven out by rapidly rising rents and an inability to get onto the ladder. But for now Labour must show that they can deliver, as after all they are the largest party in local government and run the majority of our cities. They must start in earnest now at a local level to show that they really are up for this challenge.”
“In the decade and a half that Pocket has been building homes, I’ve witnessed numerous pledges by various parties to modify the planning system. Regrettably, each one has fallen short. If Labour truly aims for impactful reform, they should engage with stakeholders who face the challenges of the planning system daily. As one of the largest small to medium-sized enterprises in the country, we feel the effects of the planning system more acutely, yet we’re still awaiting specifics from Labour on how they plan to support our sector. Also, while new towns are a positive long-term solution, we need new homes now. From our research, there is the potential to construct an additional 1.6 million homes on brownfield sites throughout the UK to address the severe housing deficit.
“Green belt – Currently, 22% of London’s total land is designated as green belt, representing the most considerable proportion found in any English region. The Labour Party’s commitment to reform green belt policy will, therefore, be critical to ensuring housing delivery both in London and throughout the UK. It is now time for Mayor Sadiq Khan to join Sir Keir Starmer in support of the policy change.