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Is a coherent housing strategy set to return under Labour?

The Government’s watered-down housing reforms and anti-development narratives have struck a blow for levelling-up, housebuilders, especially SMEs, and easing the cost-of-living crisis but after leaving housing out of his five missions, Sir Keir Starmer, has committed Labour to a sensible debate on housing and planning, even appreciating that the greenbelt is not sacrosanct.

As well as stating that Labour will bring back housing targets and “back the builders, not the blockers”, Starmer noted:

“we would make those tough choices and say to local areas, notwithstanding that it’s greenbelt, if it’s a car park or similar land which doesn’t affect the beauty of our countryside… then we’ll change the planning rules, we’ll give you the powers to do that.”

This is a different tone from the Government who are firmly behind brownfield first, despite there not being enough brownfield. And who have vowed to protect the greenbelt at all costs and making minimum housing targets advisory to help achieve that.

Rico Wojtulewicz, Head of Housing and Planning Policy for the NFB House Builders Association (HBA), said:

“Finally, we are getting some nuanced conversation on housing and planning policy. While we disagree that builders decide supply, because this is the role of local plan making and allocations, the green belt is in place to stop urban sprawl, not hinder good placemaking.

The Government’s brownfield-first strategy is a good example of hindering good placemaking. It seeks to avoid using greenbelt by increasing urban populations on land set aside for non-housing needs. Yet with higher populations, where does non-housing infrastructure now go? Or do they just not get built, as is often the case today? Labour appear to have accepted that city boundaries must play a part in good placemaking and may be hinting at a greenbelt review, something the Government turned down when Conservative backbenchers requested it.

After an awful two years regarding housing and planning debate, we might be entering a period where the torch of ambition that existed under former Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick is being relit by the Labour party.”

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