Sir Keir Starmer has promised that a future Labour government would build 1.5 million new homes and the next generation of new towns as part of its vision to “get Britain building again”.
Starmer told his party’s annual conference in Liverpool that Labour would create opportunities for first-time buyers in every community, development corporations with the power to remove blockages, and new infrastructure that would be “built quicker and cheaper”.
He launched an attack on the “restrictive” planning system, which he described as a barrier to growth, home ownership and the building of critical infrastructure, that had to be “bulldozed” through.
“There is one barrier so big, so imposing that it blocks out all light from the other side,” Starmer said.
“A blockage that stops this country building roads, grid connections, laboratories, train lines, warehouses, windfarms, power stations.
“An obstacle to the aspirations of millions – now and in the future – who deserve the security of home ownership.”
He promised to tackle the land-bankers “sitting comfortably on brownfield sites while rents in their community rise” and the councils refusing to develop a local plan “because they prefer the back-door deals”.
Starmer said that did not mean “tearing up the green belt” but rather targeting “clearly ridiculous” uses of it, such as disused car parks and dreary wasteland, often within city boundaries, which he described as “not a green belt [but] a grey belt”.
“This cannot be justified as a reason to hold our future back,” he said.
Elsewhere in the speech, the Labour leader promised a national wealth fund prepared to invest in critical infrastructure such as battery gigafactories and ports capable of handling large industrial parts.
He also committed to a new generation of technical-excellence colleges with strong links to local communities and rooted in young people’s aspirations.
Yesterday, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves told delegates a Labour government would overhaul the “antiquated” planning system to fast track planning for priority growth areas of the economy, such as battery factories, laboratories and 5G infrastructure.
Reaction to Starmer’s speech
Glenigan economic director Allan Wilen said the pledge to “get Britain building” would be welcomed by the industry.
“Increased public and private investment in the UK’s infrastructure and building more homes can deliver faster UK economic growth, raise productivity and lift living standards,” he said. “New towns can potentially provide a welcome boost to fresh housing supply and help tackle the county’s current shortfall.”
However, he warned these new urban developments would need to be part of a wider reform to release more sites of all sizes across the country to increase stock while meeting local needs.
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) also backed the plans for new homes and the prospect of a generation of new towns.
“Suggestions of reform to local planning laws, making development more accessible, are also promising,” it said.
Calling for an evidence-led review of the green belt, RICS said the investigation of ‘brownfield’ and ‘greyfield’ sites suggested in the speech was “a step in the right direction”.
“Supposing these plans were put in place, local authorities’ planning departments need full and proper resourcing to tackle backlogs, produce up-to-date plans, mitigate staff turnover, and ensure a properly functioning enforcement apparatus,” it said.
It added that plans to create a national wealth fund and to establish a series of new technical colleges could help fill significant skills gaps in the built environment.
Roger Mortlock, chief executive of countryside charity CPRE, said there was “lots to welcome” in Labour’s brownfield-first approach and the densification of towns and cities, but said full use must be made of brownfield land before new towns entered the agenda.
“The Labour leader is right to highlight that unadopted local plans are leading to speculative, unsustainable developments which are ‘potholing’ the green belt and our countryside,” he said.
“Brownfield land can provide room for 1.2 million new homes and before we start thinking about a new generation of new towns, we need to make sure we’ve exhausted the untapped potential of brownfield land.”