Labour plans next wave of new towns in pledge to build 1.5 million homes

Labour will build a series of new towns across the country to stop housing become “a luxury for the few”.

Sir Keir Starmer announced the plans in his speech to the Labour Party Conference, replicating the policy of Clement Attlee’s government that built 10 new towns during the 1950s.

The Labour leader said the party would “bulldoze through” a planning system that was “an obstacle to the aspirations of millions, now and in the future, who deserve the security of home ownership”.

“It’s out of reach for millions. And if we don’t take action – it will only become more distant. A luxury for the few not the privilege of the many.”

Pledging to build 1.5 million new homes during the five years of the next Parliament, Sir Keir added: “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.”

Keir Starmer visits Stevenage
Sir Keir Starmer on a March 2022 visit to Stevenage, the first of the post-war new towns built by the 1945 Labour government (Joe Giddens/PA)

Locations for new towns will be identified on the basis of proximity to busy transport hubs, very high levels of housing need and avoidance of nature spots and important green spaces – with sites designated in the first six months of a Labour government.

The first wave of new towns, built between 1946 and 1950 to alleviate post-war housing shortages in London, included Stevenage, Crawley and Harlow.

Two new towns in Scotland – East Kilbride and Glenrothes – and Cwmbran in Wales were also established during the 1940s.

Sir Keir told the Labour conference that his proposed fourth wave of new towns would not mean “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.

Royalty – Queen Elizabeth II – Harlow New Town, Essex
Harlow, a new town in Essex, during the then Queen’s visit (Archive/PA)

Shadow housing minister Matthew Pennycook defended the level of ambition, with the target being no higher than one set by the Conservative Government.

“House building rates are going to plummet in the next year, planning consents are already down. There is no way they meet their million home target,” he told reporters.

“The plan we’ve announced today we are absolutely confident can deliver the million and a half over the Parliament.”

Mr Pennycook said local residents will be offered “first dibs” for the homes.

Responding to Sir Keir’s speech, Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Keir Starmer’s bold vision has huge potential; the first generation of new towns had social housing at their heart.

“The drastic decline in social homes is at the root of this country’s housing emergency.

“It has pushed ever more people into wildly expensive and under regulated private renting and forced hundreds of thousands into homelessness.

“In order to the end this crisis, any plans for new towns must have social housing in their DNA.

“Housing will be a critical issue as we head into the next general election, voters want real solutions not piecemeal promises.

“All political parties need to commit to building 90,000 genuinely affordable social homes each year that this country desperately needs.”

Labour’s plans also include an overhaul of the planning system, reinstating mandatory housing targets and intervening where councils fail to meet their requirements.

Labour would also accelerate the planning process, giving local communities greater say over how houses are delivered but not whether homes are built at all.

Mr Pennycook said Labour was not “advocating a revolution in planning” or abolishing the Town and Country Planning Act.

At a fringe meeting on housing, he said: “We don’t think that’s necessary. That would be hugely disruptive, I think it would even exacerbate the current situation in terms of the uncertainty the Government has introduced.”

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