Keir Starmer has promised to bulldoze the planning system and get Britain building again.
He has set out his stall based on old-fashioned Keynesian economics, investing in construction to motor the economy.
The Labour Party met for its annual conference in Liverpool this year for what is likely to be the last time before the next general election (scheduled to be held no later than 28th January 2025). With Keir Starmer and the Labour Party showing a clear lead in the opinion polls – Ipsos has Labour 20 points ahead of the Conservatives – there is heightened interest in what Starmer says because it increasingly looks relevant.
Starmer’s challenge, however, is to fill a credibility gap. YouGov has only 33% of the electorate believing that Keir Starmer looks like a prime minister in waiting (and 47% who don’t).
In his party conference speech yesterday he made 34 reference to ‘build’ or ‘built’.
“People are looking to us because they want to build a new Britain. And we are the builders,” he said.
“Let’s get Britain building again,” he urged.
“Our Labour era will instead unleash the big build,” he promised.
Behind the rhetoric was occasional sign of policy direction.
“There is one barrier so big, so imposing that it blocks out all light from the other side,” he said. “A blockage that stops this country building roads, grid connections, laboratories, trainlines, warehouses, windfarms, power stations. An obstacle to the aspirations of millions – now and in the future – who deserve the security of home ownership. A future hidden by our restrictive planning system… Conference, we must bulldoze through it.”
He promised “shovels in the ground, cranes in the sky”.
He said: “Today we launch a new plan to get Britain building again. A signal of our determination to fight the blockers who hold a veto over British aspiration.
“No more land-bankers sitting comfortably on brownfield sites while rents in their community rise. No more councils refusing to develop a local plan because they prefer the back-door deals. No more inertia in the face of resistance – and there will be resistance from people who say – no, we don’t want Britain’s future here.
“My message to them is this. A future must be built. That is the responsibility of a serious government. And if we continually wash our hands of this task – we all end up stuck in a rut. Just like now.
“So it’s time to get Britain building again. It’s time to build one and half million new homes across the country. Opportunities for first time buyers in every community. New development corporations with the power to remove the blockages. New infrastructure to support families and communities to grow. Roads, tunnels, power stations – built quicker and cheaper.
“And a new effort to re-wire Britain. The National Grid moving faster – a lot faster. Laying the cables our future prosperity needs.”
He continued: “It’s a future with more beautiful cities. More prosperous towns. New parks, new green spaces, new public services – all aligned with our plan. And conference, sometimes the old Labour ideas are right for new times. So where there are good jobs. Where there is good infrastructure. Where there is good land for affordable homes. Then we will get shovels in the ground, cranes in the sky. And build the next generation of Labour new towns.
He also promised to relax planning restrictions on building on green belt land.
“This doesn’t mean we’re tearing up the green-belt,” he said. “Labour is the party that protects our green spaces. No party fights harder for our environment. We created the national parks, created the green-belt in the first place. I grew up in Surrey.
“But where there are clearly ridiculous uses of it, disused car parks, dreary wasteland. Not a green belt. A grey belt. Sometimes within a city’s boundary. Then this cannot be justified as a reason to hold our future back. We will take this fight on. That’s a Britain built to last.
“And here’s why. Because getting Britain building again is critical for economic growth. Our most important mission. Because it’s also a means a way to soften that hard road. Deliver on national renewal. And escape the cost-of-living crisis permanently.
“That’s why this Labour Party will fight the next election on economic growth. An economy that works for the whole country is what the British people want.”
Countryside campaign group CPRE liked the sound of Starmer’s plan, mostly. Chief executive Roger Mortlock said: “There is lots to welcome in Labour’s brownfield-first approach and densification of our towns and cities. The Labour Leader is right to highlight that un-adopted local plans are leading to speculative, unsustainable development which are ‘potholing’ the green belt and our countryside.
“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 un-tapped potential of brownfield land.
“The green belt will be critical to deliver solutions to the nature and climate crisis. While sustainable development on brownfield land in the green belt can be part of the solution, we challenge the idea that ‘grey’ belt land should include areas of scrubland that should be restored to enhance nature support natural solutions to the climate crisis.
“Alongside these announcements, we need to match the ambition of the post war Labour government in protecting our countryside and restoring nature.”