16 March 2015
Shadow Housing Minister Emma Reynolds MP delivered the annual Sir Frederic Osborn Lecture at the Town and Country Planning Association last week, setting out Labour’s plans for housebuilding if elected in May.
At the centre of her speech was a pledge to ‘‘recapture the post-war spirit for building new homes’’. The Shadow Minister explained how Labour policy would seek to emulate the 1950s housebuilding drive in character as well as ambition, with the state playing a major role in delivering new homes:
‘‘While the Tories still believe, despite their failure over the past five years, that the housing crisis will be solved by the market alone, Labour is clear that to tackle the housing crisis there must be a much more active role for national and local government.’’
Ms Reynolds cited Labour’s plans for a new programme of garden cities and for New Homes Corporations – where local authorities will partner with housing associations and developers to drive forward designated housing growth areas – as examples of the increased state involvement to come under a Labour Government.
Her speech also emphasised that first-time buyers would have priority access rights in new housing growth areas – a response perhaps to David Cameron’s commitment on Starter Homes.
Labour’s approach is clear: to portray the housing debate as a traditional split between interventionist Labour and laissez-faire Conservatives. It’s a position designed to emphasise that the party takes a firm line on an issue that resonates with younger, urban voters, voters whose support Labour needs in order to get into office.
Does this rhetoric of a return to a golden era of government-sponsored housebuilding match up to policy reality? Labour remain committed to localism and neighbourhood planning, policies that reduce central government’s ability to strategically direct housing delivery and arguably can bog local government strategy down in parochial mires.
Others would of course argue that increased government involvement can hinder, not help, housing delivery.
If a Labour led government is elected in May, these tensions in their housebuilding approach may become yet more apparent.