Capitalising on Sunak being out of the country this week, Sir Keir Starmer outlined Labour’s pitch yesterday to the UK electorate on how to achieve the highest sustained growth in the G7 through increasing the UK’s housing supply. This will be achieved, according to Starmer, through liberalisation of the UK’s antiquated planning laws which have hindered development for decades. CalComms welcomes this pivot and hopes that the shift will stimulate a broader and more informed discussion about where new homes should go. It is important that both Parties seek to educate the electorate on the issue of planning reform, so as to minimise the amount of misconceptions within the debate, such as what is specifically meant by ‘Green Belt Development’.
Politically, housing is an issue that is a weak spot for a Conservative Party that has overstretched itself across the political spectrum. The Party is split down the middle on development, meaning that numerous Prime Ministers have shied away from the issue lest they invoke the wrath of either side. Typically, the average Conservative voter has been anti-development and in favour of conserving the UK’s green spaces.
Since 2019 however, a younger generation of Conservative voters and MPs are more pro-development. This has made housing an unnecessary tight rope that Rishi Sunak has so far refused to walk. The Tories, traditionally the Party of home-ownership, are under a multifaceted attack on the housing front, the current list being: Planning reform, rent reform, interest rates, and leasehold protections.
This has created a vacuum for the issue of housing to be a more ‘marketable’ issue for Labour as a vehicle to achieve growth. The current Chancellor has said that in order to achieve growth, the UK Government will aim to attract inward investment in areas such as AI, life sciences, digital tech and energy innovation such as fusion. Areas that will require sizable Government seed funding to generate the investment needed to make progress on them. Housing on the other hand plays a lot better with voters, with Starmer positioning himself on Wednesday as ‘backing the builders, not blockers’. Starmer’s ‘anti-growth coalition’ moment?
Labour’s plan to liberalise planning laws to allow for drastic development is viewed by policy analysts as the ‘cheaper option’ that relies more on deregulation so as to galvanise private sector home-building, clean energy manufacturing, and carbon capture. While Starmer is confident in parking its tanks on Conservative lawn, it will not be plain sailing. Labour also faces a smaller NIMBY problem from its left, with many of its own MPs and Councils having also taken anti-development positions, such as Rupa Huq and John McDonnell.
Eyes now move to Sunak to see whether Labour’s activity in this area will force his hand in taking the issue of planning reform to his party and risk an internal schism.