'With new blood coming into politics and policymaking, pro-housing stances are now finally being taken'
Christopher Worrall is a housing columnist for LFF. He is on the Executive Committee of the Labour Housing Group, Co-Host of the Priced Out Podcast, and Chair of the Local Government and Housing Member Policy Group of the Fabian Society.
London’s Labour Regional Conference provided much hope for housing to be moving up the political agenda following Keir Starmer’s speech last weekend at the Royal Leonardo Hotel. Sir Keir trumpeted the regions political success owing to “a golden era of housebuilding, which is tackling London’s affordability crisis at source”. Crucially, he highlighted the role construction of new homes plays in combatting high housing costs.
This chimed with Andrew Western MP’s maiden speech earlier that same week in the Commons. Western had emphatically stated “our housing crisis is at its source a crisis of basic supply and demand, the answer to which, however much we tinker at the edges, is to build, build, build”. The representative for Stretford and Urmston may well be the country’s first YIMBY (yes, in my back yard-a pro housing movement) politician to openly stand up for new housing and recognising the role of both supply and demand.
Interestingly, it was rumoured the only MP in the chamber not to congratulate the former Leader of Trafford Council on his maiden speech was none other than Chipping Barnet’s Theresa Villiers. Coordinator of the NIMBY (‘not in my back yard’) Tory rebels who has sought to eviscerate obligatory housing targets. Yet it is against this backdrop we are seeing the rise of pro-housing Labour politicians growing ever stronger, with more politicians deciding to take the stand for more housing supply.
At the recent Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) Conference, Theresa Villiers opponent Dan Tomlinson took a progressive view to housing supply, after being pressed on the issue by a local member during Q&A. Like Western, Dan Tomlinson recognised the need for more homes in the right places to help tackle the housing crisis.
Back at London’s Regional Conference, Lisa Nandy took to the lectern to announce Labour would reintroduce mandatory housing targets, would put council housing at the heart of the next government, and end leasehold for new build homes. All welcome news. Nandy went even further on Monday 30th January in the commons, urging Gove to get on with the job and abolish leasehold all together.
Labour’s London Conference featured a housing panel excellently chaired by Danny Beales, the candidate set to take on Boris Johnson in the seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip. Beales had won his selection following a nomination from the Labour Housing Group, which complemented his housing credentials, gained while Camden’s Cabinet Member for Homes and Jobs. Beales’ journey into politics has seen him rise up from living in a homeless hostel with his single mum, to taking on a former Prime Minister. He is one Keir and Lisa should be watching given his serious background in housing.
The ‘House and Home – Solving Britain’s Housing Crisis’ panel also featured Brent Council Cabinet Member for Regeneration & Planning, Cllr Shama Tatler, Priced Out’s Anya Martin, London Assembly Member Sem Moema, and Osama Bhutta from Shelter. Discussions around planning reform had been encouragingly featured. For the first time in recent memory, we saw pragmatic discussion about the need for planning reform and the issues the system presents.
Cllr Shama Tatler’s opening remarks stated that the Government has abandoned anyone under the age of thirty-five. She reflected on how a single room in a property in Brent had over sixty applicants. Simply put, there are not enough homes being built. Tatler called for more homes of all types, including market rate housing and social housing. Highlighting how desperately needed it is if we are to ever give hope to people like her daughter of ever owning a home.
Tatler went on to call for reform to our planning system and encouraged Labour activists and members to go out and support new homes. In particular, proposals for council housing, which despite the systemic housing crisis, has often come with opposition from within Labour. Tatler called on local members to champion the good work councils do against those who oppose social housing, as well as better coordination of planning for housing alongside infrastructure.
Anya Martin, a housing campaigner, was up next, highlighting how the housing shortage is “totally obliterating the possibility of owning in London”. During the panel discussion, Anya spoke in no uncertain terms about how the cause of housing unaffordability is lack of supply. Like Tatler, Anya Martin also went onto state the need for planning reform to encourage the supply of all types of homes. In turn, making the point that the increase of over 400% in house prices since the 1970s is demonstrably worse than our international peers. The main differentiator being the way we regulate land use.
Assembly Member Sem Moema described how for some young people, their first experience of local government is being faced with NIMBYism, making the case for unheard voices to be considered in policy making. Sem did however avoid the question on planning reform, while also demonstrating support for rent controls. A demonstrably regressive policy that has been pushed by Sadiq Khan in recent times, as well as Labour Campaign for Council Housing. It was, however, positive to see that politicians feel witnessing NIMBYism is an unwelcome experience for those who are currently priced out the housing market.
Shadow Housing Minister Matthew Pennycook also attended the London Labour Regional Conference, speaking at a fringe event in favour of reintroducing mandatory housing targets. He highlighted the fact that 59% of councils do not have local plans in place. An indictment of this Government’s performance. Perhaps reason for Labour to consider use of a tool known as the “builder’s remedy”, which has seen some success in California, incentivising authorities to put plans in place to meet such obligatory targets.
Ironically, both Pennycook and “local patriot” Bob Seely, MP of the Isle of Wight, recently agreed on the need to reform planning at a Westminster Hall debate on the 26th January. Seely argued that England has some of the least dense cities by international comparisons. Meanwhile, Pennycook was of the belief that England’s largest cities “cannot, or will be unable to”, accommodate the output such reform would entail. Both agreed on the need to reform planning. Reading between the lines it appears the motivation for reform is sadly still driven by NIMBYism rather than YIMBYism.
Labour has come a long way from the disappointing rhetoric of national conferences of yesteryear, where notions of planning reform being a “developers charter” were met with a mixed response from younger supporters. But with new blood coming into politics and policymaking, pro-housing stances are now finally being taken. Albeit sometimes tentatively. The likes of Western, Tomlinson, Tatler and Beales certainly give pro-housing Labour activists, and would be voters, something to feel excited about. Let’s just hope Starmer and Nandy remain open to new ideas and practical solutions that can deliver the change our country so desperately needs. That specifically being planning reform.
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