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Labour's new planning reforms: it's a grey area

View profile for Ben Arrowsmith
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On 8 July 2024, the new Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, announced Labour’s headline new planning reforms and it will be to Angela Rayner, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (with the previous “Levelling Up” element of her Department’s title dropped on 9 July 2024 as “it was only ever a slogan”) to provide the flesh.

In essence, what Ms Reeves did was to restate what was in Labour’s manifesto in relation to building more houses, making the planning system less unwieldy (I am sure I have heard this before…), brownfield first, etc., etc. in order to “kickstart economic growth”.

Labour intends to build 1.5 million homes in this Parliament, equating to the much fabled 300,000 homes per annum. By the by, where this figure comes from still eludes me: like the 10,000 steps only becoming what it has become because the Japanese symbol for 10,000 resembles a person walking. Perhaps, an ancient Anglo-Saxon rune depicting the number 300,000 shared resemblance to a dwelling.

Ms Reeves is correct in that there is a lack of confidence, at the moment, in the housing market in general and so, to this author, Labour’s plans are welcome. Also (re-) announced was this concept of “grey belt”, a term which remains slightly nebulous. Labour describes it as comprising “poor quality and ugly areas” on parts of the green belt.

With all due respect to the incoming administration, there appears to be a conflation of the overriding purpose of green belt which is to ward off against coalescence of the settlements with the popular image of green belt as a bucolic idyll (i.e. areas rich in biodiversity). In this respect an ugly car park and a poor quality area of scrubland can still prevent coalescence between settlements (albeit in a less pretty way). I am all for releasing some of the green belt to build on (with due regard had to its status and the following of proper processes, procedures, etc.) because it covers about 13% of the land in England: even releasing a tiny proportion of that 13% would translate into a lot of dwellings vital number if the 1.5 million new homes is to be (nearly) achieved.

Was Andre Gide correct when he said, “the colour of truth is grey”? Or did Gerhard Richter hit the nail on the head when he said that grey is “absent of opinion, nothing”? Let us leave it to the master of them all, Leonardo Da Vinci, and hope he is correct vis-à-vis Labour’s vision for the planning system: “A grey day provides the best light.”