Labour conference 2023: housing recap

Labour conference 2023: housing recap

DeHavilland has produced a housing round-up from this week's Labour Party conference.

DeHavilland has produced a housing round-up from this week’s Labour Party conference.

Key takeaways:

  • Housing dominated the agenda at the Labour conference, with several MPs, mayors and industry professionals commenting on its centrality to Labour’s mission of regeneration. 
  • Planning reform and home-building were key components of both shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves’ and Sir Keir Starmer’s speeches.  
  • The commitment to home-building will be particularly popular with many red wall voters but potentially alienate those in green belt south-east England constituencies. 
  • The quality of affordable homes was discussed in terms of the preventative health care agenda across fringes and in terms of generating jobs and alleviating taxpayer costs for temporary accommodation. 

Home building 

In his glittering address to the Labour conference hall, Sir Keir Starmer pledged to build 1.5 million homes in his first five years in Parliament, if elected, as part of a commitment to the “next generation” and Labour’s “decade of renewal”. 

The Labour leader promised to accelerate building on unused urban land (or brownfield sites) to create the new towns, alluding to the Atlee Government’s post-war housing boom. 

The speech drew on Sir Keir’s working-class roots. He called for action on regeneration projects and housing by “getting shovels in the ground”, emphasising that, without action on housing, people could not break the “class ceiling”. 

Although the Labour leader did mention that these projects would not affect greenbelt areas, more conservative voters in areas such as Surrey and the Home Counties around London will be hesitant about the policy. 

Housebuilding was a key area of discussion in many fringe events throughout the conference. Quality and access to homes were mainly raised by third-sector representatives of homelessness, welfare, and health-related charities. 

There was a consensus that new homes needed to be of higher quality to reduce further taxpayer-footed bills in the future for housing-related long-term health conditions such as mental health and respiratory issues. It was noted that there is a significant expenditure on temporary private accommodation for people without good-quality social housing. 

Clarion Housing’s Clare Miller also called for a future Labour government to protect affordable home stock from buyers hoping to “flip” homes and take them out of the affordable market – particularly an issue in areas such as Wales, Devon and Cornwall with the Airbnb boom. 

Partnership between public and private sectors 

Sir Keir Starmer said he expected a significant portion of investment for housing from the private sector, with local areas bidding for new towns to interact with private developers directly. Indeed, this was also a vital issue at many fringe events over the conference, with both local authority representatives and developers calling for great cohesion and clarity around the delivery of homes. 

Deputy London Mayor for Housing and Residential Development Tom Copley attended several fringe panel discussions and particularly highlighted the success of the Barking Riverside project as an example of the private and public sectors working together. 

Across receptions and fringes, however, it was clear that many developers are frustrated with the lack of national uniformity over housing policy emulated by local authorities. It was agreed that the lack of clear, allocated targets makes it harder for the private sector to identify areas where projects would be created. 

Speaking at a New Statesman and Clarion Housing Group fringe, Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, Labour MP Clive Betts, suggested sanctions be introduced for councils who deny planning permission for housing development projects. He said this could go some way to deter nimbyism and promote better national uniformity in policy. 

Speaking at the same panel, Naushabam Khan, Director for Policy and Communications for St Mungo’s, suggested that private developers should have more of a long-term responsibility for their projects as an incentive to build high-quality homes. She referred to the Dutch system of social responsibility for a project over a specific span, which could, in turn, drive regeneration and alleviate financial pressures on central Government for those left with poor housing who are forced into temporary accommodation. 

Planning reform 

The most significant announcement in terms of planning, however, came in Rachel Reeves’ speech on Monday. The shadow Chancellor called for the total overhaul of the “antiquated” planning system. Ms Reeves pledged to update all national policy statements within six months of possibly entering Number 10. 

Within this, planning would be fast-tracked for particular industry areas, such as battery factories, laboratories and 5G infrastructure. She added that there would be much clearer national guidance provided to developers for consulting local communities to avoid the prospect of litigation. 

“If we want to spur investment, restore economic security and revive growth, then we must get Britain building again”, Ms Reeves commented.


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