What would Labour do about the housing crisis? The Nationwide Foundation at Labour Party Conference

If we believe current polling, the next election will return a Labour (or Labour-led) government. So, as the housing crisis continues to bite, Labour’s proposals on housing give us an idea of how a likely future government plans to tackle it.

The Nationwide Foundation attended the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool last week and was excited to see housing policy take centre stage. It became apparent from the speeches that significant new ideas to solve the housing crisis are to be key elements of the Labour manifesto and this looks like being a differentiator from the other major parties. 

Key Labour figures dedicated parts of their conference speeches to housing issues and reforms, and many of the housing-related fringe events were standing room only.

Deputy leader Angela Rayner used her opening address on Sunday to pledge that Labour will deliver ‘the biggest boost in affordable and social housing for a generation’ and strengthen the rules that prevent developers from ‘wriggling out of their responsibilities’. She also highlighted the importance of secure, affordable homes as the foundation of a good life.

On Monday, Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves followed up with proposals to deliver a ‘once in a generation set of reforms’ and take on the ‘antiquated planning system’ to accelerate the building of energy, transport, and housing infrastructure.

But Kier Starmer’s keynote speech featured the most – and most detailed – commitments on housing. The Labour leader promised to drastically increase the supply of new housing, reiterating his pledge to build 300,000 homes each year if elected to government. Labour would also dramatically overhaul the planning system – the current system of building in a piecemeal way on isolated plots of land puts too much power in the hands of developers and land bankers who have significant influence over how land should be developed. Without planning changes, the government won’t be able to build homes at the scale required.

Labour plans to give communities more powers to enforce standards in housing development for local areas, recognising that many objections to new developments stem from a concern that they’ll be poor quality or not designed with the needs of the area in mind.

We were also interested to learn that mayors and local authorities are set to receive more powers to deliver housing in their areas.

A standout feature of Starmer’s conference address was his pledge to build a new generation of ‘Labour new towns’. These planned developments of thousands of homes built on the ‘grey belt’ – areas of disused land within the green belt that include wasteland and abandoned car parks – will be delivered by development corporations with compulsory purchase powers as a way to build at scale and get delivery done.

The coming 12–18 months will see Labour develop a clearer picture of how the new towns will look. It plans to test a phased approach to learn how best to roll out the programme on a wider scale if it wins power at the next election.

The new towns will feature a mix of homes of different tenures and various housing models. As a long-time backer of community-led housing – which Labour included in its most recent policy platform as a route to increasing housing provision – and funder of projects working in the space, the Nationwide Foundation is excited by the opportunity that new towns present to deliver more community-led housing. We eagerly await more information on the proposals.

Further, too many homes built today undermine residents’ health and well-being. Seeking to tackle this problem, the Nationwide Foundation funds the Town and Country Planning Association to develop and win support for the Healthy Homes principles – 11 principles that define a healthy home and outline basic standards according to which new homes should be built. We were delighted to hear support for the principles from key Labour figures, which we hope will inform planning reforms and the development of the new towns.

As supporters of rental reform through our Transforming the Private Rented Sector programme, the Nationwide Foundation was pleased to see some takeaways for private renters to take comfort in. In her conference address, deputy leader Angela Rayner committed to passing renting reforms proposed by the current government – such as a ban on ‘no fault’ evictions – but not guaranteed to pass before the next election. Elsewhere, Labour has committed to go further than passing the Renters (Reform) Bill by introducing a renters’ charter, which would include a right to keep pets, a ban on landlords discriminating against those receiving benefits, and other measures.

On the controversial subject of rent control, Labour seems to fundamentally oppose it, having previously hinted that it was something they might consider. However, Labour MPs speaking at housing fringe events acknowledged that reforms are needed to tackle the problems uniquely facing those at the lower end of the private rented sector and that landlords have a duty to think of themselves primarily as housing providers before investors.

Overall, we sensed excitement. Plans for new towns and development corporations aren’t new, but they address many fundamental delivery issues in the current housing system. It’s clear that Labour is serious about housing reform and has been working closely with the sector on their plans. The Nationwide Foundations looks forward to engaging further with Labour and seeing how its thinking on housing develops.

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