Building industry responds to Labour grey belt reform plans

Building industry responds to Labour grey belt reform plans

The Labour party have announced reforms to the UK planning system and the release of grey belt land for development if they are elected. The proposal includes five ‘golden rules’ for ‘Grey Belt’ development as they look to ‘build affordable homes, boost public services and improve green spaces.’

Labour’s five ‘Golden Rules’ are:

  • Brownfield first
  • Grey belt second
  • Affordable homes
  • Boost public services and infrastructure
  • Protect genuine green space

We round up what those in the industry have to say about the proposal below:

Federation of Master Builders

The Labour Party’s proposal to introduce five ‘golden rules’ for ‘Grey Belt’ development is an important initiative to help deliver more homes, says the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB said: “The UK is experiencing a growing housing crisis and brownfield sites alone are insufficient to tackle the scale of the challenge that we face. While brownfield land should be prioritised, introducing new measures to create more buildable land and is vital, particularly small sites which can be used by local house builders, as this will help to create more diverse, quality housing.”

Berry raised concern about the details, adding: “More detail is needed about the proposal, particularly as to how ‘poor-quality and ugly areas’ are to be classified as Grey Belt. However, we know that many small sites in Green Belt areas, such as disused car parks and petrol stations, would be perfectly suitable for housing. Unlocking small sites would present significant opportunities, and these proposals must be supported with increased funding to empower local authority planning departments to support micro and SME housebuilders through the planning system.”

National Federation of Builders

Richard Beresford, Chief Executive of the National Federation of Builders (NFB), said: “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. It’s a win for all parties which is why we support it.”

The NFB added:

  • The focus will be on ensuring grey belt sites deliver as many community benefits as possible, such as schools and GP surgeries, with local leaders, rather than only quangos, deciding what is needed.
  • Affordable housing targets will be strengthened, and developments should serve to increase access to nature, so that housebuilding and nature are compatible.

Rico Wojtulewicz, Head of Policy, and Market Insight at the NFB and House Builders Association (HBA), 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.

“A grey belt also suggests some greenbelt reassessment, something even Conservative backbenchers have been calling for, but the Government keeps dismissing.

“Alongside other announcements and discussions, such as reforming compulsory purchase and having more onsite biodiversity opportunities, it feels as though we have a political party which understands the problems planning uncertainty causes for housebuilders, communities, nature, and society at large.”

The Housing Forum

The Housing Forum has welcomed the reforms, stating they are pleased to see Labour’s plans for a higher proportion of Affordable Housing on greenbelt land.

Commenting on the plans, Director of Policy and Public Affairs, Anna Clarke said: “It’s good to build on brownfield sites where practical, but we know these are not sufficient to meet needs. Many cities, such as London have a growing population and huge levels of housing need. But they are unable to grow outwards because of greenbelts where were drawn up over 70 years ago. We would like to see a more strategic approach to the greenbelt, with local authorities and city regions encouraged to work together. Central government should support these ambitions and not try to lock down the boundaries of greenbelts in perpetuity.”

Leaders Romans Group

Experts from Leaders Romans Group (LRG) commented on Keir Starmer setting out his policy for housebuilding today, planning, land and new homes.

Lawrence Turner, Director, Boyer said: “As the UK’s housing crisis continues to worsen, the need for a joined-up approach to deliver more homes is urgently required. Addressing the housing crisis needs to encompass the use of brownfield and greenfield sites, the establishment of new settlements and the carefully considered release of Green Belt land. The latter is something that the current Government has avoided for the last 14 years.  Kier Starmer is correct when he says: ‘We cannot build the homes Britain needs without also releasing some land currently classed as greenbelt’.

Turner added: “It is important to recognise that Green Belt land does not solely comprise areas of pristine countryside. In fact, many Green Belt areas are used for industrial purposes, golf courses, or intense agricultural activities – which Keir Starmer refers to as “grey belt.” This distinction is crucial, as it dispels the misconception that all Green Belt land is environmentally valuable and must be preserved at all costs.

“The concept of Green Belts was initially introduced in the 1950s and 60s in conjunction with the establishment of New Towns. However, no New Towns have been built since the 1960s, yet Green Belt land continues to be vigorously protected. This has resulted in a situation where the most sustainable locations for housing development, close to job opportunities and amenities, remain untouched within the Green Belt, while development sprawls out into less sustainable areas in the open countryside.

“In 2008, the Labour Government’s Regional Spatial Strategies identified sustainable locations for new homes and proposed the release of Green Belt land for development. Unfortunately, the rise of the Localism agenda in 2010 led to the revocation of regional planning and with it a significant reduction in housing delivery and Green Belt release –  and the housing crisis has only deepened in the years since. This highlights the dire need for a proactive approach to addressing the shortage of housing in the UK.

“Releasing Green Belt land for housing development could potentially unlock new opportunities for sustainable, well-planned communities. By focusing on infilling within existing urban areas and utilising brownfield sites within the Grey Belt, we can minimise the impact while still meeting the demand for new homes.”

Tim Foreman, Managing Director of Land and New Homes, Leaders Romans Group (LRG) said: “While I agree with much of what Keir Starmer is saying,  I’m not sure if there is anything terribly revolutionary in it.

He added: “We have heard talk like this before from governments but the problem is that when planning applications go in on this type of land, they are held up for years or refused at a local level.

“The ideas are good but the policy must have some teeth to make sure that the land is released in a timely manner to help with the chronic shortage of homes.

“I also am slightly worried about the proposal that 50% of the homes built on this land are designated Affordable Homes. Tis percentage seems to keep creeping up and with the current high cost of materials and labour already affecting our sector I am worried that development sites will be financially unviable if they have to provide this percentage of affordable homes.

“I think our problem is serious enough that a housing task force needs to be set up with a clearer plan on what the mission is and more authority to step in if things are held up.”

Ian Barnett, National Land Director, Leaders Romans Group (LRG) said: “Keir Starmer’s announcement about building on the Green Belt attracted some contentious headlines. A sensible discussion on the Green Belt is long overdue. But can it remain sensible in this febrile environment?

“We must move away from images of ‘concreting all over the Green Belt’. The idea that housing developments are primarily ‘grey’ may been true of post-war development when the Green Belt was introduced, but is not today. As a result of changes in approaches to development today, new communities have the potential to be attractive, primarily ‘green’ spaces which significantly boost both the aesthetic and biodiverse qualities of the land.

“Furthermore, we must look again at the definition of the Green Belt. As Starmer quite accurately pointed out, much of it isn’t even green: contrary to a widely-held belief that the Green Belt is a bucolic ring of verdant countryside open to all, much of it is inaccessible and/or preserves and protects unattractive edge-of-settlement brownfield sites – those which have potential for sustainable development.

“We have seen so many changes since the Green Belt was first introduced, including the New Towns programmes of the 1960s and 1970s – places like Milton Keynes, Basingstoke and Crawley were villages when the Green Belt was first introduced.

“It is therefore imperative that the Green Belt is reviewed in order to deliver enough homes in the right places and protect land that deserves to be protected. But because development is so sensitive, so complex and has so much scope for subjectivity, a review of the Green Belt can only be delivered though a national or at least a strategic regional plan, led by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities. The Green Belt began as a national policy and must remain as such.

“It is important to note that a review of the Green Belt does not necessary mean a reduction in the Green Belt, which is how it is often presented. It means that that areas worthy of protection are included and those – such as the car park that Keir Starmer referred to in his speech – are potentially repurposed, and quite possibly in such a way that increases their aesthetic value.

“To gain political and public support, the Green Belt needs to be reframed on the basis of expansion. Since 1955 when the Green Belt was introduced, the UK population has grown from 51,063,902 to 68,497,907. The housing crisis demonstrates a desperate need for sustainable new settlements and we have adequate measures, such as AONB and conservation area status, in place to ensure that this is done sensitively. We need to move away from the idea that there’s something intrinsically unattractive about development: twenty well designed houses, in sympathetic landscaped surroundings can benefit the natural environment, rather than detract from it.

“I believe that Keir Starmer is very much on the right track in accepting that the Green Belt must be reviewed to address the housing crisis. I believe it is possible to expand the Green Belt overall, while also delivering more homes. But a strategic approach is the only way in which this can be achieved.”


Terry Woodley, MD of Development Finance at Shawbrook, commented: “Labour’s proposed plans to require councils to build on the ‘grey belt’ and utilise brownfield sites could be a step in the right direction.

“The UK is in urgent need of solutions to address the housing shortages, and developing brownfield sites could be a useful piece of the puzzle. However, it is not the sole solution, and it can come with its challenges. Though our research shows that 77% of developers agree that location is still the biggest driver of property sales and brownfield sites allow for attractive urban living options, these sites can often pose a unique set of challenges and may not be as attractive to developers compared to other options.

“Whilst this could be a positive change, any government considering these steps must ensure that they’re taking a multi-pronged approach which includes an overhaul of the planning process to adequately tackling housing issues if we are to see real progress over the next 12 months and beyond.”


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