The future of urban development priorities

Katy Davis, planning & development partner in Carter Jonas’ London office looks at the 'grey belt' development proposed by Keir Starmer and what might happen to housing delivery under a Labour government.

Related topics:  Planning,  Development,  Green belt
Katy Davis | Carter Jonas
17th June 2024
Construction 711
"A future Labour government would have to use multiple levers to genuinely achieve a step-change in housing delivery, and this will include the inevitable need to deliver some development on Green Belt land that does not neatly fit the ‘grey’ label"
- Katy Davis - Carter Jonas

The government, in its Long-Term Plan for Housing, has committed to ‘a new era of regeneration, inner-city densification and housing delivery across England’.

It has also launched visions for growth in London, Leeds and Cambridge. The Spring Budget made further commitments to these cities, allocating funding for London and Leeds and the promise of both a development corporation and a future long-term funding settlement for Cambridge, to be announced in the next Spending Review.

The same day, the government also published an Independent Review of the London Plan and following this highly critical report, Michael Gove ordered the London Mayor Sadiq Khan to conduct a partial review of the London Plan.

This has two specific areas of focus. The first is industrial land: the government believes that of the 6,800 hectares of land used for industry in London, 736 hectares could be used for housing. The second is opportunity areas which have not delivered the intended 2,500 homes. For the Conservative party, brownfield development remains the priority.

But if the current government is replaced with a Labour administration in the autumn, the preferred location for new homes is set to change.

In April Keir Starmer set out his policy for housebuilding, specifically freeing up space for between 100,000 and 500,000 homes by building on ‘ugly’ parts of the Green Belt land. His proposals include prioritising brownfield land within what is currently designated Green Belt but also improving green spaces such as parks and woodlands.

The ‘grey belt’ has become a focus of many of Starmer’s pro-development speeches. It was almost a year ago that he depicted a disused petrol station as an example of land within the Green Belt which had little aesthetic value but considerable development value.

The petrol station – along with ‘disused car parks’ and ‘dreary wastelands’ – has since been branded the ‘grey belt’, a new description for protected land which would otherwise be made available for development on the basis of its suitability and sustainable location.

Almost unquestionably, Green Belt release is the single most effective way of resolving the housing crisis. There are many parts of London where the Green Belt is isolated pieces of land between major transport infrastructure and these are prime sites for the development of employment and homes. Some London boroughs including (Labour-run) Enfield are boldly proposing major Green Belt release in their draft local plans.

Development on the Green Belt – and there is substantial Green Belt surrounding London, Leeds and Cambridge - is one of the most contentious planning policies that a government could introduce (as is evidenced by the fact that the current government has made great efforts to avoid doing so).

However, it was only in a surprise announcement on the eve of the local election in early May that Sadiq Khan apparently came round to the idea of more development on the Green Belt. He has previously gone to great lengths to protect the Green Belt and in the 2021 London mayoral campaign, put “opposing building on the Green Belt” as the sixth point of his Green New Deal for London.

There is reason to believe that the mayors of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority are very protective of the Green Belt.

A future Labour government would have to use multiple levers to genuinely achieve a step-change in housing delivery, and this will include the inevitable need to deliver some development on Green Belt land that does not neatly fit the ‘grey’ label. Difficult decisions, and continuing political disagreements, lie ahead if we are to house our growing population.

More like this
Latest from Financial Reporter
Latest from Protection Reporter
CLOSE
Subscribe
to our newsletter

Join a community of over 20,000 landlords and property specialists and keep up-to-date with industry news and upcoming events via our newsletter.