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Get Britain Building: Has Labour got what it takes to reform planning in England?

Updated: Jul 10

Labour leader Keir Starmer next to a coloured background with a "New homes next left" sign
Keir Starmer has tried to establish Labour as a pro-housebuilding party in opposition.

Last month, we shared insight on the emerging battle lines that the Labour and Conservative leadership were drawing on planning. Our analysis was that this was a political play by Labour which could exploit existing division in the Conservative party.

Our view now? These lines are well-established, and Labour is starting to flesh out plans which it claims will overhaul English planning rules. This represents a clear doubling-down on Keir Starmer’s commitment to build more homes – the Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves and Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Lisa Nandy have both identified the planning system as a drag on growth, most recently attributing a £17bn hit to low housebuilding levels.

This weekend, Lisa Nandy told Laura Kuenssberg “we need to end the taboo about the green belt” – this is a huge pitch by Labour. Nandy does however caveat this claiming she does not support building on ‘genuinely green’ areas.

Labour’s ideas on planning are linked to strong proposals on devolution which the party is considering – we’ll hear concrete policy on that closer to the election – the headline here is that combined authorities will have the power to declassify green belt land. According to Nandy, this will be part of Labour’s first flagship piece of legislation, their “Take Back Control Act”.

While Labour is making the right noises on planning, it would be unwise to build expectations too greatly. All major parties claim to desire greater housebuilding; Conservative policy remains committed to 300,000 homes per year (apart from their by-election leaflets in Uxbridge); Labour deploys the slogan ‘Get Britain Building’; and nationally the Liberal Democrats are committed to 300,000 homes per year, although this sometimes fails to translate to local policy.

The record of the government on housebuilding is clear – planning approvals are low, applications are low, and housing delivery is threatening to drop further. The caveats from the Labour Party should also be concerning – Nandy refuses to support building on areas that are ‘genuinely green’, and she promises to strengthen local people’s say on green belt declassification as part of the proposals to enable combined authorities to build on green belt land.

When pressed, Nandy explains that Labour will retain the “right of communities to object to planning decisions”, mandate consultations at an earlier stage, and permit combined authorities to establish development corporations alongside reforms to CPO powers. These are all positive developments in the planning sphere, and they have the capacity to deliver more homes.

It remains hard to see how Labour can square the circle of enshrining community consent to development while weakening the veto local people can have on development. The Labour leadership is clearly committed to the idea it can “Get Britain Building” but the reforms behind the slogan resemble small, incremental reform rather than the system overhaul that would be needed to address the housing crisis within a decade.

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