‘The Blockers and the Builders’: Labour’s Plans for Housing, Development, and Planning Reform

As the next general election looms ever closer, an exciting development has taken place; planning reform, a long-overlooked yet crucial policy, has re-entered the mainstream political arena as a point of contention between the two major parties. Both the Conservatives and Labour agree that improving the UK’s stagnant growth rate is paramount for a thriving society and economy, but disagreement remains over how this might be achieved.
In this blog, Aaron Marchant explores recent policy announcements by the Labour Party and considers how they might form a new political dividing line at the next general election.

The context

In the past few months, a policy shift has taken place within the Labour Party; as part of a series of policy announcements within the ‘Five Missions for a Better Britain’ strategy, Keir Starmer and Shadow Cabinet members have tentatively started to fill in the gaps of Labour’s 2024 manifesto. As part of the first mission – ‘Secure the highest sustained growth in the G7’ – Starmer has set out a host of policy proposals on planning: a commitment to wholescale planning reform; the re-establishment of compulsory national housebuilding targets (abandoned by the government following a backbench rebellion last year); and prioritisation for emerging high-growth tech industries.

It was during a speech at the British Chambers of Commerce Annual Global conference in May 2023, where Starmer most assiduously sought to establish this new dividing line in British politics: one between ‘the builders’ who embraced growth and opportunity, verses ‘the blockers’ who opposed development and change.[1]

While we are a long way from these proposals becoming law, Starmer’s announcements do illustrate what planning reform under a Labour government might look like.

The importance of planning reform

Some nation will lead the world in offshore wind, why not Britain? I’ll tell you one reason why not, our planning system.’ The cause of much of Britain’s anaemic growth, Starmer argued, is the bureaucratic, buffering nature of the planning system, which, when compounded with declining housebuilding rates and an ever-extending timetable for NSIPs like HS2, posed a fundamental threat to the British economy. Starmer described the problem as:

A doom-loop of low growth, low productivity and high taxes. A generation and its hopes, an entire future – blocked by those, who more often than not, enjoy the secure homes and jobs that they’re denying to others’.

Labour’s solution, Starmer explained, would be to:

‘…take on planning reform. We’ll bring back local housing targets. We’ll streamline the process for national infrastructure projects and commercial development and we’ll remove the veto used by big landowners to stop shovels hitting the ground. Tough choices, but the right choices. We choose the builders, not the blockers. The future, not the past. Renewal, not decline. We choose growth.’

Finally, to secure the industries of the future, including green energy, Starmer set out a vision for ‘a reformed planning system, a modern industrial strategy, a more powerful British business bank that will help scale businesses – new and old.’ This would ‘make sure Britain becomes a superpower in green growth.’

If elected, the implications of Labour’s strategic realignment will hold opportunities and implications for the renewable energy and housebuilding sectors specifically.


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Implications for the housing sector

On housebuilding and homeownership, Labour is taking the fight to the Conservatives, in what has for decades been a traditional Tory policy area.

Announcing a policy to introduce a national target for 70% homeownership (the latest figure from 2022 puts homeownership at 64.3%)[2], Starmer accused the government of ‘killing the dream of homeownership’ for a whole generation and pledged to allow development on parts of the Green Belt in a move described by the Financial Times as ‘his biggest and boldest policy call as leader’.[3]

Labour’s housing policy includes a commitment to create 1.5 million new homeowners, to introduce a comprehensive mortgage guarantee scheme, and to give first-time buyers ‘first dibs’ on local new homes, to make Labour ‘the party of homeownership’.[4]

Noting that housebuilding could fall to its lowest level since WWII, Starmer argued that:

We’ve got to drive housebuilding at pace. We need to put local areas in charge of that so change the planning rules, have development corporations as vehicles on the ground to drive building, and make sure that the dream, the aspiration of owning your own home is realised for so many people who at the moment have had their dreams shattered.’[5]

As for implementation, Labour insiders have suggested there would be more powers for local authorities and a new incentive structure to encourage grass-roots-led development. One report states that a Starmer government would force councils to work together to formulate plans for regional development, with capital and new infrastructure as the prize for new housing. Similarly, if proposed developments meet the standards established by the local plan, they would then be approved without an elongated process of local committee meetings. Discussions are also ongoing around the creation of new towns and intensive development within the Oxford-Cambridge Arc.

Labour also intends to build a new generation of council housing. Lisa Nandy, the Shadow Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary, made her position clear in a party conference speech in September 2022, announcing that ‘we will be the first government in a generation to restore social housing to the second largest from of tenure.’ This would, Nandy maintained, ‘bring homes back into the ownership of local councils and communities’, under the Blair-esque mantra of ‘Council housing, council housing, council housing.’[6]

Housebuilding, then, will form a crucial component of Labour’s message at the next general election, challenging the Conservatives to pick one side of their fragmented voter coalition. Under Rishi Sunak, Labour is betting that the Tories will choose ‘the blockers’ in a bid to save traditional Conservative heartlands in the Home Counties, giving Labour the opportunity, they hope, to present themselves as the party of growth and aspiration.


Implications for net zero

Labour has committed to becoming the first major economy to have one hundred percent zero carbon power by 2030, but it is worth briefly surmising how it envisages planning reform as key to the rapid upscaling of renewable energy.[7]

In a speech in January 2023, Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves identified the planning system as a major drag on the renewable energy sector, with the system now ‘defined by delay.’ Offshore wind farms, Reeves contended, currently take 13 years to develop, 4 years of which ‘are spent fighting through the planning system.’[8]

Fundamentally, then, to achieve Labour’s plan ‘to double onshore wind capacity, triple solar, and quadruple offshore wind, all within the next 7 years, we will need to reform that planning system.’

Crucially, Reeves pledged that a Labour government would:

‘…ensure net zero is embedded through [planning] and our whole energy system; bring planning restrictions for onshore wind in line with other infrastructure; impose tough new targets to get planning decisions on renewables down from years to just months; reform the grid system to cut the delays and get on with delivering more clean power capacity to turbocharge the transition; and ensure these decisions are prioritised so that agencies can meet them.’

In addition to hastening central decision-making, Reeves also pledged ‘to ensure that communities that host infrastructure in the national interest feel its benefits’ and to ‘require Local Authorities to proactively identify land for renewable energy opportunities and improve access to data.

Labour’s proposals, though light on detail, are clear on their ambition and strategic direction – the pledge to reduce the NSIP timetable from years to months is bold, though it remains to be seen as to how the party will look to fulfil this pledge.


Floating Wind Turbines Installed In Sea. Alternative Energy Sour


Labour’s recent series of policy announcements on planning reform, housebuilding targets, and unlocking renewable energy developments are welcome, and herald a new dividing line in British politics between the ‘builders’ and the ‘blockers’.

Further announcements are anticipated at the Labour Party Conference in September 2023, and a speech from Starmer on net zero is expected in the coming weeks. The return of planning to the mainstream political discourse is ultimately welcome and presents new opportunities for business and industry. Indeed, as developers will know, ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.’





[1] Labour, Keir Starmer speech at the British Chambers Commerce Annual Global 2023, 17 May 2023, https://labour.org.uk/press/keir-starmer-speech-at-the-bcc-global-annual-conference-2023/

[2] Statista, Distribution of property tenure in the United Kingdom (UK) from 1980 to 2022, 11 January 2023, https://www.statista.com/statistics/804446/property-tenure-distribution-in-the-united-kingdom/

[3] FT, Labour’s gamble on building on greenbelt, 18 May 2023, https://www.ft.com/content/6db4a678-a602-4f37-bf81-579d47bbae2d

[4] Labour List, Soaring mortgage costs may win Labour more votes than its housing policies, 27 April 2023, https://labourlist.org/2023/04/labour-housing-policy-mortgage-interest-rates-morning-email/

[5] Sky News, Labour will build on green belt to boost housing, Starmer says, 17 May 2023, https://news.sky.com/story/labour-will-build-on-green-belt-to-boost-housing-starmer-says-12882668

[6] Labour, Lisa Nandy Conference Speech, 26 September 2022, https://labour.org.uk/press/lisa-nandy-conference-speech/

[7] Labour, ‘Keir Starmer calls for new national champion in clean energy, Great British Energy, with a mission to cut bills, create jobs, and deliver energy independence’, 27 September 2022, https://labour.org.uk/press/keir-starmer-calls-for-new-national-champion-in-clean-energy-great-british-energy-with-a-mission-to-cut-bills-create-jobs-and-deliver-energy-independence/

[8] Labour, Rachel Reeves speech at Fabian Society New Year Conference, 21 January 2023, https://labour.org.uk/press/rachel-reeves-speech-at-fabian-society-new-year-conference/