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Labour and the Planning System

nathan anthony

By Nathan Anthony, Planning Partner, LEP

What does the new Labour Government mean for the UK’s planning system?

LEP’s Planning Partner, Nathan Anthony, summarises his first take on the sweeping changes promised by Labour. With bold commitments and a renewed focus on growth, housing, and energy projects, the new Government is poised to reshape the planning landscape. But will they deliver on their ambitious goals? Let’s delve into the key proposals and what they might mean for the future of planning in the UK.

Firstly, the new Government is proposing to revisit the NPPF.  Labour have stated that they will update the NPPF within a month, focusing on a growth-positive framework that will reintroduce mandatory housing targets to deliver 1.5 million homes over their 5-year term. This includes unlocking development held up by nutrient neutrality, releasing ‘lower quality’ Green Belt (or relabelling it) and focusing on new towns.

This has been promised before and then reneged, therefore LEP will be keenly monitoring how Labour deliver on this. However, a more robust approach than the current wording of Paragraph 61 (which provides a “starting point” for calculating housing need), would be welcomed.

The Labour Party has also given priority to energy projects, including lifting the ban on on-shore wind projects, which no doubt will receive a mixed reception, but which positively responds to the current multitude of infrastructure issues nationwide and gives a nod to the calls to address the over-reliance on non-domestic energy production.

Secondly, the new Government is to provide much needed support to Local Planning Authorities alongside the creation of a task force to accelerate housing delivery.  As has been the call of many a planner (in both the public and private sector) and developer for years, Labour have promised 300 new planning officers at LPA’s. Across just England, including unitary authorities and metropolitan borough council’s, by our maths this equates to less than 1 per LPA so it may not be as effective as the Government are suggesting, but it is a start.

The hope that the aforementioned additional planning officers will assist with increased housing delivery is to be accompanied by a new task force with the mandate of accelerating housing development nationwide. What form this task force takes, and what powers they have, is to be confirmed but they must be afforded the means to take the red-tape, that has stifled many before them, head on.

Thirdly, the new Government has promised to directly tackle what they see as issues currently impacting on an effective planning system.  Labour have said they will focus on changes to the system that will allow growth; will this mean the removal of bureaucratic intervention? The Secretary of State will also be required to afford more weight to the economic benefits of projects; an element of assessment that many would argue has been conspicuous by its absence. The Deputy PM will also write to LPAs and set out Governments expectations of them.

Some of the above is systemic and with the right resources and input (from planners), can be implemented to the benefit of the planning system, albeit whether the Governments timeframes are optimistic is to be seen. Whilst opposition to much of the above is likely to be loud, the removal of red tape will be welcomed by developers who ultimately will be delivering the housing and infrastructure the country needs. However, as with all things, funding will be key. It is well documented that there is none, but it is important that the Labour Government have the courage to take the short-term pain because the long-term gains for both development and ROI will be there.

In summary, the new Labour Government has laid out a comprehensive and ambitious plan to overhaul the planning system, promising updates to the NPPF, support for local planning authorities, and a focus on energy projects and housing delivery. While the proposals are promising, their success will hinge on effective implementation and adequate funding. LEP will be closely watching to see if Labour can turn these bold promises into tangible results, transforming the planning landscape for the better. Stay tuned as we track these developments and their impacts on the future of planning in the UK.