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It would be fair to say that the planning system has been in a state of flux for a considerable period of time, and whilst the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act has recently received Royal Assent, we still await secondary legislation to bring much of it into effect, and there remains the prospect of a much-promised new National Planning Policy Framework. Ongoing political uncertainty has not helped this, including a further change of Housing Minister announced in a reshuffle earlier this month. This uncertainty has undoubtedly led to delays in the production of Local Plans and a slow-down in the delivery of planning permissions for new homes.

 

With the prospect of a general election at some point in 2024, the Labour party is beginning to give indications as to how it might look to approach the planning system. During its annual conference in October, Keir Starmer announced a number of reforms slated to spur a new era of housebuilding including planning reforms, a generation of “Labour new towns”, the creation of a “planning passport” to fast-track brownfield schemes and a policy allowing first-time buyers priority on buying homes within new-build developments. Angela Rayner, the Shadow Housing Secretary vowed to create the biggest increase in affordable housing "in a generation" whilst getting tough with developers who try to wriggle out of affordable housing obligations.

 

The Labour leader has used various soundbites, claiming that Labour will “get Britian building” and that Labour will be “the party of the builders not the blockers” with aims to build 1.5 million homes over the next Parliament, equivalent to 300,000 homes a year.

 

Labour has been in talks about its new towns plan with the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), which was founded by Ebenezer Howard, the instigator of the original garden city movement that created garden cities in Letchworth and Welwyn in the early 20th century. Starmer stated that a new generation of new towns would be built as part of a “decade of renewal”. A six-month consultation would identify sites for new towns with potential for high economic growth and significant unmet housing needs. In this process, state-backed developers could be given compulsory purchase powers to buy land at lower prices, with infrastructures such as schools and GP surgeries ‘hard-wired’ into the developments.

 

Labour’s potential approach to the Green Belt has featured prominently in headlines. Starmer referred to what he deems as low-quality Green Belt land such as scrubland and car parks as a “grey belt”, which should be considered for housing development. Whilst this has drawn expected criticism from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), DHA noted an interesting article earlier in November within which the Chair of Natural England, highlighting the opportunity that the Green Belt poses in providing an answer to the housing crisis and delivering nature restoration alongside this. No doubt the debate on the future of the Green Belt will continue up to and beyond a General Election.

 

Other ideas to support housing delivery include ‘Planning Passports’ which would allow fast-track approval of high-density housing on urban brownfield sites.

 

All of the above represents encouraging rhetoric which has drawn support from industry bodies including the Home Builders Federation (HBF), the Land, Planning and Development Federation (LPDF) and the National Housing Federation (NHF). As Labour turns to the policy formation stage, they will have to grapple with how their public pro-growth stance can translate to votes. The housing crisis will remain at the forefront of young people’s minds in particular, but Labour will need to ensure that their ambitious plans can actually be delivered and importantly that they are not seen as coming at the expense of the environment.

 

DHA and the wider industry will be monitoring further announcements with interest.

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