Written by Nikki O’Hagan, 4th July 2024

The General Election happens today, 4th July 2024. According to most (if not all) pre-election polls, we can expect to walk away with a Labour majority government. After 14 years in power, some sources are even predicting “total annihilation” of the Conservative Party. We’re following the crowd and focusing on what a Labour majority government is likely to mean for our planning system.

Read on to find out more about what a Labour government will mean for planning. Whether a new Labour government will follow through on their pre-election promises, only time will tell!

Labour priorities and promises

New NPPF within 100 days

Although this did not form part of the party’s manifesto, Labour’s shadow chancellor has promised to publish a new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) within 100 days of a Labour government.

The NPPF provides national policies with which all local planning decisions and local planning policies are expected to conform.

Given that Labour promises major overhaul of the national planning system, it comes as no surprise that the NPPF will also need to be updated. This election promise does, however, indicate the rapid speed with which a new Labour government would seek to effect change.

Mandatory local housing targets

Labour pledges to restore mandatory housing targets. These compulsory targets were only recently scrapped by the current prime minister in 2022. Mandatory housebuilding targets are set locally and are carefully calculated to account for local housing needs. Local councils are expected to meet or exceed their target and this is subject to annual monitoring. There are penalties for local councils who fail to meet their target and housing applications that conflict with planning policies are more likely to be approved.

Labour has indicated they would take a “zero tolerance” approach to local councils that fail to meet their housing targets.

Green Belt rules to be relaxed

Labour intends to relax Green Belt strategy to open these areas up to development. This would possibly be the most significant change to be made to the planning system in recent decades.

Green Belt boundaries are drawn widely and, unlike National Landscapes (formerly AONBs), Green Belts are not designated because of their scenic or landscape value. Rather, they are mainly designated in order to prevent urban sprawl – this is where large urban areas such as London gradually “creep” out into the countryside, eventually merging with other urban areas. Green Belts are strategically located in order to prevent this from happening by imposing strict controls over development.

Labour would remove a number of those longstanding controls to enable more development to go ahead in Green Belts. Labour has indicated that their approach to development in the Green Belt would:

  • Prioritise previously developed (brownfield) land over green spaces. This means we can expect development to take place on car parks, old industrial sites and other land already containing structures and buildings. Open fields and grassy spaces will continue to be preserved.
  • Focus on poor quality and ugly parts of the Green Belt. A positive approach would be taken to the development of derelict, dilapidated and unsightly areas.
  • Maximise the provision of affordable housing. It is expected that land released from the Green Belt for housing development would deliver 50% market housing and 50% affordable housing
  • Improve “genuine” green spaces. There would be no building on nature spots or green spaces such as woodlands, parks and playing fields. Rather, Labour would seek to improve the quality of these areas and increase public access to them.

New towns

Labour promises to quickly identify sites for the development of new towns. These will be large and self-sufficient new communities – think Milton Keynes. Labour has indicated that they will establish an “expert independent task force” within the first year of government. This task force will be responsible for choosing appropriate sites and drawing up a list of new town projects.

At present, the development of new, self-sufficient settlements is a slow process, generally multiple decades in the making. Labour pledges to “start building the towns of the future within months, not decades”.

Labour will also draw up a national New Towns Code that will set design parameters for all new towns. This is expected to include requirements for affordable housing, green infrastructure (trees etc.), public transport connections and public services.

Ambitious national housebuilding target

Most of Labour’s planning reforms are intended to significantly boost the national supply of housing. The party has set themselves an ambitious housebuilding target – to deliver at least 1.5 million homes over the next Parliament. Their plans for the Green Belt and New Towns are critical to achieving this.

For comparison’s sake, the Conservative Party pledged at the last General Election to deliver 300,000 new homes per year by the mid-2020s. According to then-Chancellor Philip Hammond, “Experts agree that 300,000 new homes a year would start to make inroads on the affordability of housing.” The latest data suggests the Conservatives have only delivered around 70 – 80% of this target and the affordable housing crisis continues.

Economy to take precedence

Labour plans to “kickstart” the economy and “remove barriers” to economic growth. This will be achieved to a large extent by the planned “building boom”. Labour also intends to invest in “the industries for the future” (technology, renewable energy etc.) and aims to create 650,000 new jobs within these industries.

The Labour leader has told the public, “a Labour government would prioritise jobs over local objections and environmental concerns.” This approach may prove controversial and unpopular with both local communities and environmental groups.

National infrastructure

The Labour Party promises to remove red tape in order to deliver major infrastructure projects more quickly, cheaply and easily. This will begin with the adoption of a new 10-year infrastructure strategy. Nationally significant projects are expected to include new roads, railways, reservoirs, renewable energy sites, scientific laboratories and data centres.

So what will a Labour government mean for planning?

According to the Labour Party, it will mean more homes and also more jobs; all facilitated by an overhauled planning system. We are also expecting Local Planning Authorities to be given more resources to enable them to do better. We will be watching the new government keenly to see whether they deliver on their promises!

For assistance with all things planning, contact Planning Direct today. Our initial advice is always free of charge. 

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