Starmer’s Labor Eyes Blitz of UK Planning Reform Within Weeks


(Bloomberg) — Keir Starmer is preparing a series of planning reforms if his Labor Party wins next month’s British election, aimed at immediately boosting housing construction in Britain as he aims to deliver 1.5 million homes in five years.

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Starmer’s government would work quickly to implement changes over the summer through a series of written ministerial statements, statutory instruments and letters from ministers and senior officials directing local planning chiefs to press ahead with projects, people familiar with the matter said with the case.

Labor would also move quickly to amend the country’s National Planning Policy Framework to restore mandatory local housing targets, which would be set at the same level as before the Conservative government scrapped their mandatory element in 2022, the people said, requesting anonymity when discussing possible early steps of a new administration.

The strategy, which bypasses the more time-consuming primary legislation, shows how Labor is trying to hit the ground running as it seeks to deliver the economic growth that will give the party the flexibility to spend more on its public service priorities as the five-year parliament progresses. . With all recent opinion polls showing that Labor will win a large majority in the July 4 election, attention in Westminster is turning to what Starmer would do with that mandate.

Labor has put housing at the heart of its election manifesto, promising to build an average of 300,000 homes a year – a target that successive Tory governments have set and failed to achieve.

A party official said a top priority for Starmer’s first 100 days would be what they described as a revolution in planning, which the Labor leader sees as a vital supply-side reform to boost economic growth and in turn greater capacity for government expenditure. while also redistributing wealth by allowing more people to buy their own homes.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader in charge of the housing programme, wants the reforms implemented immediately as the party will come under pressure to achieve its targets at the next election, the people said. A large proportion of the houses would have to be built by the end of parliament, a person familiar with Labor’s plans said, blaming the state’s Tories for their legacy.

Another predicted that this would be the political battle of the next five years, with Starmer facing vested interests and Britain’s infamous not-in-my-backyard brigade, or NIMBYs. At his party conference last year, Starmer explicitly pledged to “take on the NIMBYs” and side with “the builders, not the blockers”. He went even further in a BBC interview on June 14, saying he is “willing to make enemies” to help Britain rebuild.

On Thursday, Starmer declined to give a timeline on when he would reform the leasehold system or introduce new protections for tenants, but said this could happen “soon” if Labor comes into government.

“These are the kind of changes we can make quite quickly,” he told reporters on Thursday at a housing estate in York, where he spent the day promoting Labour’s plans to solve a housing crisis mainly affecting younger Britons are suffering, with prices rising in relation to profits since the Tories came to power in 2010, while the age of the average first-time buyer has risen from 30 in the last decade to 32.

Greater use of ministerial powers offers Labor another potential opportunity to accelerate implementation. The number of building applications reviewed by the Secretary of State – known as a ‘call-in’ – fell from an average of more than 50 per year in the 2000s to five in the previous fiscal year, according to Bloomberg calculations based on data from the Planning Inspectorate. and National Archives showed earlier this week.

Other policies announced in the Labor manifesto included a pledge to provide mortgage guarantees to first-time buyers. Under the proposals, the state will provide guarantors for future owners unable to save for a large down payment, making permanent an expiring government program that offers 95% loan-to-value mortgages.

The mere mention of the British planning system is usually enough to elicit a look of disapproval from housing enthusiasts. Development decisions are in the hands of exhausted local councils, and objections from local residents can get in the way of ambitious projects. The number of planning applications for schemes of ten homes or more in 2023 has fallen to the lowest level in at least a decade, according to researcher Glenigan Ltd.

A Bloomberg survey last year found that average annual funding in local government planning departments has fallen by 44% since 2010, while the average number of employees in those teams has more than halved over the same period. Meanwhile, according to government statistics, between October and December last year, 80% of major planning applications were not resolved within the legal deadline of thirteen weeks.

Some industry experts are not convinced that the planning proposals from either major party will be enough to increase supply when resources are so tight.

“The planning commitments from the Conservatives and Labor are not detailed enough,” said Zoe Bignall, head of UK development consultancy at real estate agency CBRE Group Inc. “At this point they are just words – we need to know how this will actually unlock the economy. delivery of housing.”

–With help from Damian Shepherd.

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