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Building on Green Belt Land: Labour’s New Housing Pledge

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At the British Chambers of Commerce today, Leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer expressed his Party’s intention to expand housing by allowing councils the power to build properties on green belt land, as long as planned developments meet local requirements. 

Against the backdrop of adapting to a new economic era, Starmer will set out five key economic shifts: ensuring economic stability and certainty, empowering communities nationwide, capitalizing on future opportunities, enhancing job security, and building economic resilience.

Levelling up: builders not blockers

Under current regulations building on green belt land is only allowed in exceptional circumstances. Labour wants to weaken these rules, but simultaneously ensure an environmentally-friendly promise that construction will only be allowed where it does not compromise the beauty of the countryside. 

Keir Starmer has emphasised the significance of building homes to achieve national financial prosperity. In a move to make “tough choices but the right choices”, Starmer pledges to back builders rather than those obstructing development processes and aims to restore local housing targets  –  these have been diluted under Rishi Sunak’s leadership as the Conservatives have pressured the Prime Minister to limit planning development, arguing that local authorities are being undermined when it comes to determining suitable areas for construction. This is despite the 2019 manifesto pledge to build 300,000 homes a year by 2025.

The issue of housing under the current Government was particularly highlighted yesterday by Housing Secretary Michael Gove’s admittance at the National Conservatism Conference that there “simply aren’t enough homes”. Starmer has therefore hit out at the Conservatives, arguing that their poor performance on housing is hindering growth and reducing home ownership aspirations. Pointing to a weakness in the ‘Levelling Up’ agenda, Starmer asserted that the British economy is now in “second gear”.

Are Labour really fighting NIMBY interests? 

Despite Labour’s new aim to tackle ‘not-in-my-backyarders’, as housing will be a key issue at the next election, some Labour MPs have fought against planning developments in their own constituencies. One example is Matthew Pennycook, MP for Greenwich and Woolwich and the shadow minister for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, who opposed the building of 1,500 homes. Pennycook wrote to Greenwich Council asserting that the height of the buildings would be “wholly inappropriate” and would “have a marked detrimental impact on the existing character of the area”. Pennycook also argued that “the proposed towers would have a significant impact on views from the Maritime Greenwich world heritage site” and that they would “result in substantial harm to the character and appearance of the East Greenwich conservation area”.

 Final thought 

As the housing crisis deepens, Labour have taken the opportunity to get ahead on an issue which will be at the forefront of the next election. There is much work to be done on housing, not only building housing, but making it affordable, especially within the context of the cost-of-living-crisis. 

Moreover, Labour’s housing plan may be interpreted as a move to win back the vote from young people – after dropping their pledge to scrap tuition fees, supporting the building of housing to encourage people into homeownership, along with the plan to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote, may be Labour’s attempt at regaining the trust of the younger generations. 

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