Reaction to Labour’s new town plans

In a keynote speech to property industry leaders at the UKREiiF conference in Leeds, Angela Rayner, Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, has revealed plans include a series of new towns, promising that the party will  build 1.5m new homes across the country over the next parliament.

Below are some highlights from Rayner’s speech today and, following that, is a reaction to it from Lanpro’s Antony Duthie

village, cottage, house

Rayner said: ‘I am sure you all know better than most that getting applications over the line can be like swimming through treacle and it’s absolutely right that local people get a say, but a failing system is not in the local or national interest.

‘Fewer than 70,000 planning applications were approved in the last quarter of 2023, the worst period on record, with fewer developments green-lit than during the height of the pandemic.

‘We know the majority of developers are on the same page, eager to work in partnership with government to unlock housebuilding.

‘That requires an active central government. Including the re-introduction of local housing targets.

‘As Secretary of State, I will empower our regional and local leaders to deliver, as Labour councils and the mayor do here in West Yorkshire.

‘Our next generation of New Towns will build homes fit for the future. Creating places where people want to live. Inspired by garden suburbs like Hale in Manchester, Roundhay in Leeds, and the Garden City project.’

‘We’ll give Mayors the tools they need to deliver homes in their areas, revitalising brownfield first, unlocking ugly, disused grey belt land for housebuilding and setting tough new conditions for releasing that land.

‘Our ‘golden rules’ will ensure any grey belt development delivers affordable homes, new public services, and improved green spaces.

‘This means more social and affordable homes and we will ensure that brownfield sites are approved quicker so homes get built fast.’

Commenting on this significant piece of planning policy from Labour, Antony Duthie, Regional Director of planning consultancy Lanpro said:

‘When Sir Keir Starmer set out his six priorities last week, to the surprise of many he didn’t include housing as a priority. And so it is good to see housing back on the agenda.

‘That said, with the substantial downturn in housing delivery and planning applications during this government, it is clearly imperative that the planning system is de-politicised. Afte all, a home is a basic human need and should be top of the agenda for the next Government no matter what its political colour.

‘Whether Labour’s new towns policy can genuinely address the escalating housing crisis – or whether it fails, as the ‘eco towns’ and so many other similar proposals did before – will of course rest in the detail.

‘Today’s announcement boldly proposes that a Commission would be set up within just six months and a list of sites decided within a year. Since this would this require a new Act of Parliament as it did in the post-war period, it may be committing to too much too soon.

‘Furthermore, there’s the question of willing landowners and contractual negotiations with developers, presumably involving compulsory purchase: it’s not a quick fix by any stretch of the imagination.

‘If you then throw into the mix the thorny subject of Green Belt protection – the function of which is inherently misunderstood and leads to very emotive objections; also viability considerations, the new requirement for biodiversity net gain and the complexities of infrastructure delivery, the delivery of new towns will be complex and protracted.

‘One advantage that this policy might bring is concerning the infinitesimal issue of NIMBYism – in many cases, at least new towns are in the back yard of very few people.

‘But while new towns are part of the solution, should we not be focusing first on what’s readily achievable – such as the reintroduction of housing targets and indeed the notion of ‘grey belt’ as already floated by Labour?’

Paul Day
Paul is the editor of Public Sector News.


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