At the Labour Party conference held yesterday (10th October) in Liverpool, the party leader said: “It’s time to get Britain building again, it’s time to build one-and-a-half million homes across the country.”
In his speech, Starmer said that the party would be revising the green belt land allocation, potentially removing any disused car parks and “dreary wasteland” from the current green belt in order to deliver on the housebuilding promise.
“Where there are clearly ridiculous uses of it, disused car parks [and] dreary wasteland, a grey belt, sometimes within a city’s boundary — this cannot be justified as a reason to hold our future,” he stated.
The Labour leader went on to speak about the party’s intention to fight against “our restrictive planning system” to unlock housebuilding.
“There is on big barrier, so big [and] so imposing that it blocks out all light from the other side. A blockage that stops this country building roads, grid connections, laboratories, trainlines, warehouses, windfarms [and] power stations. An obstacle to the aspirations of millions – now and in the future – who deserve the security of homeownership. A future hidden by our restrictive planning system — we must bulldoze through it.
“Today we launch a new plan to get Britain building again. No more land bankers sitting comfortably on brownfield sites, while rents in their communities rise. No more councils refusing to develop a local plan because they prefer the backdoor deal,” he added.
Commenting on Starmer’s speech at the Labour Party conference, Ian Barnett, national land director at Leaders Romans Group (LRG), said: “A review of the green belt is long overdue, but a review does not necessary mean a reduction in the green belt. It means that that areas worthy of protection are included and those – such as the car park that Starmer referred to in an earlier speech – are potentially repurposed, and quite possibly in such a way that increases their aesthetic value.
“We must move away from images of ‘concreting all over the green belt’. The idea that housing developments are primarily ‘grey’ may have been true of post-war development when the green belt was introduced, but is not today.
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“We must look again at the definition of the green belt. As Starmer quite accurately pointed out, much of it isn’t even green: contrary to a widely-held belief that the green belt is a bucolic ring of verdant countryside open to all, much of it is inaccessible and/or preserves and protects unattractive edge-of-settlement brownfield sites — those which have potential for sustainable development.”
Katy Davis, head of the London planning and development team at Carter Jonas, commented: "It’s very positive news that Labour recognises the ‘grey belt’ — a great term which describes the substantial amount of low-quality (mostly brownfield land) that is unnecessarily protected by the outdated, broad-brush green belt allocation.
“The release of low-quality car parks and brownfield land has the potential to be developed into truly sustainable communities, admittedly the debate and the passage of legislation would be difficult, but we certainly look forward to the opportunities that this could bring.”
In response to Starmer’s plans to enable the delivery of 1.5 million new homes, Nick Sanderson, CEO at the Audley Group, claimed building this many new houses may not be the correct path: “Starmer [has focused] on building more houses — he is right that we need more housing availability, but not that we need more bricks and mortar.
“We have a growing older population and there is enormous demand for more specialist retirement housing, with health and wellbeing services on site — focus on meeting that demand, and you increase flow in the housing market automatically for first-time buyers.
“Whole swathes of new towns springing up will do less to ‘build a new Britain’ than would freeing up the many under-occupied houses that already exist.”
Commenting on development waiting times, Clive Holland, presenter at Fix Radio, said: “Under the current rules, it takes an average of five years for a standard housing development to go through the planning system.
“Since the Covid-19 pandemic, everything has been done digitally and unfortunately taken its toll on house planning. Now, we are unable to go into planning offices and speak with someone directly, meaning the whole process has become a lot slower, all because they have cut back on staff.
“We are still experiencing numerous sites being mothballed simply because resources and interest rates are too high. I think it's all going to come to a grinding halt if we continue the way we’re going.”
Melanie Leech, CEO at the British Property Federation, added: “Politicians of all parties now recognise the central role of an efficient and effective planning system to deliver infrastructure, thriving communities, decent homes and jobs.
“We welcome Labour’s focus on planning and housing in Liverpool this week and the party’s commitment to a clear target for delivering homes of all tenures.”