Labour reveals greenbelt housing plan as government ditches key pledge

The Labour Party has called for more homes to be built on greenbelt land, shortly after the government scrapped a pledge to build 180,000 affordable homes.

Announcing its “golden rules” for housebuilding this morning (19 April), Labour promised to target “poor-quality and ugly” parts of the greenbelt for development as part of its plan to build 1.5 million new homes in its first five years in office.

It said development of the ‘grey belt’ – a term referring to areas such as poor-quality wastelands and disused car parks in the greenbelt – was a critical part of its commitment to deliver the biggest boost to affordable housing in a generation.

Although precedence would continue to be given to the development of brownfield land, it was inevitable that some greenbelt land would also have to be released if the chronic housing shortage was to be addressed, the party said.

That meant distinguishing “genuine nature spots”, which would be protected and improved, from unattractive, lower-quality areas of the greenbelt on which building could take place.

“Labour is committed to prioritise building on brownfield land first, but we can’t build the homes that Britain needs without also releasing some greenbelt, including poor-quality land, car parks and wastelands currently classed as greenbelt,” it said.

It would make improvements to existing green spaces, making them accessible to the public, with new woodland, parks and playing fields.

“Labour will not build on genuine nature spots and will set tough conditions for releasing greenbelt land for housebuilding so that building more homes and protecting nature go hand-in-hand,” it said.

The announcement was welcomed by Richard Beresford, chief executive of the National Federation of Builders, who described it as “a win for all parties”.

“Prioritising grey belt and pairing it with golden rules would ensure greenspace loss is mitigated, vital supporting infrastructure is delivered and both builders and local people getting planning and placemaking certainty,” he said.

Rico Wojtulewicz, head of policy and market insight at the federation said: “The devil will always be in the detail, but Labour appears to understand that placemaking requires input and support from all quarters and that the housebuilder’s job is to build the homes, not control what infrastructure is required, how offsite nature links up to a new development and why a site is allocated for new homes.”

Labour’s policy announcement came after the government admitted earlier this week that it could not meet its affordable housing target.

The decision to scale back the ambition of the £11.5bn Affordable Homes Programme (AHP) was confirmed in correspondence from a senior official at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), who said a new target would be set shortly.

Letters sent this week by DLUHC permanent secretary Sarah Healey to Josh Goodman and Emma Payne, appointing the pair as senior officers responsible for the programme’s delivery, noted that the 180,000-home target had been abandoned.

“The AHP was launched in September 2020 with a public commitment to invest £11.5bn to deliver up to 180,000 affordable homes right across the country should economic conditions allow,” she wrote.

“We have already identified that the programme is very unlikely to deliver 180,000 homes due to economic changes and so we note that you will confirm new delivery targets shortly, when the overall figures are ready to publish.”

The scheme is the department’s largest capital grant programme and a pillar of the government’s plan to “level up” the country, tackle homelessness and end the housing crisis.

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