In what may prove to be a popular policy, Labour leader Keir Starmer is positioning his party as a YIMBY (yes in my back yard) party to fix the decades old problem of new homes being blocked and elevating the importance of building the homes we need for the future.
In his speech on Tuesday was a plan to use dedicated state-backed companies to build a wave of new towns near English cities, echoing those built by Labour after World War Two.
Keir used the term “bulldoze” to clear restrictive planning rules and overrule local (Labour and Conservative) MPs and councillors to build more homes. Citing the encouragement of Georgian-style townhouse blocks, he will restrict the ability of councils to stop developments on under-used urban land, particularly where developers can meet the criteria in a new planning rulebook.
“We are going to have to do things that previous governments haven’t done,” he said, including building on what the less-attractive green belt land – what he termed the “grey belt”.
When in government, Keir wants to run a six month consultation to decide where and how many new towns will be built, inviting bids from councils.
Planning reform has stalled over the years because of the NIMBY tensions in all the parties. Only last month, Labour peers voted down the nutrient neutrality rules that could have allowed the current government to build 100,000 new homes.
Labour Party conference was its busiest for many years, with large numbers of delegates, visitors, commercial exhibitors, lobbyists and media, and possibly helped by councillors being given free conference passes.
A housebuilding rally on Sunday had as its theme: “Back the Builders not the blockers.” Clear messages were repeatedly delivered to ignore the NIMBYs and “to listen to the renters not the blockers”.
Shama Tatler, Deputy Leader of Brent and Cabinet Member for Regeneration (known locally as the tower block queen) stressed the need to build more homes. Homes of all tenures, including intermediate which helps people get on the housing ladder. “Labour is open for building.”
Rachel Reeves’ announcement of planning reform included investment in local authority planning officer capacity to speed up decision-making. At another fringe event, delegates highlighted the need for real community engagement, not just a drop-in session for a couple of hours with a few display boards.
Housing featured in almost every major speech at the conference. Deputy leader and cabinet member for leveling up, Angela Rayner gave a passionate account of the difference that social housing made to her life and outlined Labour’s commitment, if elected, to deliver 1.5 million new homes over the term of a new parliament.
Meanwhile, Conservative prime minister Rishi Sunak was keen to ban smoking and reform A levels last week, but forgot to mention the single biggest issue facing many of his voters – housing.