With the Labour conference having drawn to a close last week, party conference season has officially ended for another year.

While both Tory and Labour conferences were important opportunities for both parties to articulate their vision for Britain, a lot of the spotlight was on the Labour Party, given their surge in public support.

Labour’s conference was highly focused on general economic prosperity and the government’s record of delivery but for the first time the development and construction sector formed a key component of the leader’s primary platform, as Labour laid out their vision to get Britain building.

The “builders not the blockers”

Sir Keir Starmer outlined a vision for an ambitious programme to build new homes and unlock the development potential of the UK.

But what does all this mean, and is there a plan behind this vision?

Let’s start with Labour’s headline promises:

  • Build 1.5 million new homes within the first five years of a Labour Government.
  • Empower local leaders to make decisions that align with the needs of their communities, providing a financial boost of £10 billion for infrastructure projects.
  • Establish a mortgage guarantee scheme, which seeks to help one million first-time buyers get on the property ladder.
  • Unlock ‘greybelt’ land for development.
  • Invest over £20 billion per year to create 200,000 jobs each year to support the construction sector’s future growth.

Building 1.5 million homes would be the biggest boost to affordable housing in a generation. The mechanism for delivering this has yet to be articulated and while greater flexibility in the Affordable Housing Programme and changes to Section106 agreements were referenced, the big changes needed to make this policy a reality have yet to be shared. There is likely a series of proposals being held back for the general election.

Labour also made a point of acknowledging the pivotal role that the construction industry plays to help facilitate economic growth. They have committed £20 billion per year to support growth in the construction sector. Their hope is this will create over 200,000 jobs every year and will result in a 10% increase in construction output.

Building communities, not just homes

While Labour is ambitious about building more homes, they have also said their focus extends beyond brick building; they’re placing a large emphasis on fortifying local communities.

A central component of this is the decentralisation of power to enable locally elected leaders to have a more prominent role in determining development initiatives. This process is designed to empower local communities giving them a say in development projects, with a specific allocation of powers that will allow local leaders to address infrastructure and development needs effectively.

However, there is an underlying tone that if local authorities aren’t delivering, central government could step in.

Other policy proposals include the establishment of a comprehensive mortgage guarantee scheme, which seeks to help one million first-time buyers get on the property ladder. The Party also announced the intention to prohibit ‘no-fault’ evictions, tackle the issue of leaseholds, and introduce rental reforms to promote equitable access to housing. This is the first-time renters form a meaningful block of voters in a general elections and Labour have placed themselves in poll position on the issue.

But are they achievable?

Do we really have the construction workforce required to build 1.5 million homes?

Won’t greyfield developments just bring the NIMBYs out in droves?

What’s more, additional money doesn’t necessarily mean things will get done. If elected, Labour will also inherit a gutted civil service who will be stretched to deliver such bold promises. And, although well intended, devolving more powers to local councils doesn’t necessarily mean better outcomes.

These are questions Labour will face as we inch closer towards an election next year. Starmer appears acutely aware of this though and seems willing to openly challenge a culture on NIMBYism that grips parts of the country.

“In the face of resistance – and there will be resistance – from people who say ‘no, we don’t want Britain’s future here,’ my message to them is this – a future must be built.”

This is a smart play by Starmer. Owning the narrative by turning likely criticism into his key message is astute political communication. Any opposition narrative will now be framed as anti-progress. Ironically this seizes on the narrative first put forward by the ill-fated Liz Truss government and firmly wedges Labour in the centre of British politics.

Now that conference season is over, and momentum builds towards a general election and the London Mayoral election in 2024, both major parties will be looking to further distinguish their visions for Britain’s future. And with Labour already thundering out of the blocks, the Conservatives have some work to do.

Written by Jack Johnson

Photo credit: Institute for Government

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