What a Labour government will do for developers 

British election campaigns can sometimes feel like supermarket price competitions, with the political parties trying to attract customers with eye-catching retail pledges that have no real downside. 

There is one aspect which is different. Ever since Sir Robert Peel in 1830s Tamworth, parties are expected to publish a single document summing up their offer. Fortunately they tend to take it seriously – the Labour Party more than others, for what was in the manifesto can be a trump card in winning any subsequent internal political dispute. 

Labour’s 2024 manifesto ‘Change’ is a 136 page document (the length being padded out by lots of unnecessary images of Keir Starmer), but the largest surprise in it is that there is no surprise in it. Needing to balance many interests and campaigns who are likely to kick up a fuss if they feel they are disregarded means the party can’t easily add pledges out of nowhere.  

Where developers fit in 

All Keir Starmer’s major speeches have referred to ‘mission-based government’, which links to his February 2023 speech announcing five ‘missions’ for any government he will lead. Housebuilding and planning comes under the economic growth mission: “Britain is hampered by a planning regime that means we struggle to build either the infrastructure of housing the country needs” (page 26). 

Starmer pledged at the last Labour conference to “get Britain building again” and the commitment to build 1.5m new homes in the next Parliament is prominent. To achieve that, the party will restore mandatory housing targets for councils, and require councils to have up-to-date local plans: there is a carrot of funding for more planning officers, and a stick of government intervention should councils fail to plan. More controls over planning policy will be devolved to Combined Authority Mayors, linked with housing investment. (One may cynically wonder if this will last, should the current crop of Labour Mayors find re-election difficult.) 

Green belt or grey belt? 

Starmer took a risk last year in broaching the idea of developing some less attractive parts of the Green Belt. The manifesto notes green belt land is routinely released for development and pledges a strategic approach, to “release to build more homes in the right places” with “ ‘golden rules’ to ensure development benefits communities and nature”. There is a balancing commitment to fast tracking approval of redeveloping urban brownfield sites. 

Affordable housing 

Labour is particularly keen to see social and affordable housing built, and the manifesto backs reforms to section 106 agreements – though without detail. Previous announcements have said the party wants to help local planning authorities negotiate, give more guidance on how viability must be assessed, and to restrict post-agreement challenges to their terms.  

The party also renews its commitment for a new generation of new towns. One minor surprise early in the campaign was the party’s idea of a New Towns Code to set design standards, for which the group ‘Create Streets’ produced some attractive images showing high density housing did not need to be ugly; this isn’t mentioned in the manifesto. 

A plan for change 

Manifestos are not the place for policy details; many of the downloads of the manifesto from the Labour Party website will be by civil servants making an early start on planning the legislation a new government will be introducing in coming months and years. But they are meant to be clear enough that the policy can’t be confused, and unlike the social media memes seen during campaigning, they are meant to last.  

Labour can read the polls, just like everyone else. It wouldn’t have put things in the manifesto if it expected to backtrack on them. The party expects its 2024 offer to be the basis of government policy in a few weeks.  

You can read the Labour manifesto here

June 2024 

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