For some time, younger people and housebuilders have been crying out for a leader of a political party who wants to see more homes being built. Someone who can unite those on the right, centre, and left under one banner; the opportunity to own your own home. Step forward Sir Keir Starmer.
This week on Good Morning Britain, Sir Keir vehemently put forward his case to build more homes, stating that home ownership provided a sense of security for people, which is the right approach. But there was a phrase which Starmer used “We’re going to back the builders, not the blockers” which was music to my ears. To hear the leader of a main political party, say that he WILL build more homes is a welcome announcement for young people looking to get on the property ladder, and an unwelcome one for PM Rishi Sunak, who appears to have been outfoxed and outmanoeuvred by his opponent on this key issue. But don’t take my word for it, just read The Times. The traditionally Conservative outlet has come in support of Starmer’s bold strategy, a potentially watershed moment not just in the housebuilding debate, but the British political spectrum.
As always, the devil is in the detail, but two main elements are worth noting with regards to Starmer’s approach to the delivery of more homes:
Building on the green belt
Those of us who have worked in the built environment for any period know that the green belt is a mirage. A vague term used to describe land that is vaguely green, but in some cases not pleasant and perfectly suitable for development. Starmer has announced that he will give local authorities more power to build on the green belt to meet their housing needs. A bold strategy, but one that many have been pushing for. Unlike anxious Conservatives and their core voters in leafier and arguably more affluent areas of the country, Labour have seized the initiative and, rather than fearing retribution from those resistant to development in their area, Starmer has come out fighting for growth and regeneration – no matter what the retribution is from rural communities.
The reinstatement of housing targets
Some argue that housing targets should have been scrapped in the first place, but now Starmer has successfully backed the Conservatives into a corner and is putting considerable pressure on Sunak to push back against those in his party who are resistant to development. Do remember that it was the PM who gave in to pressure from backbenchers such as Theresa Villiers MP and Bob Seely MP.
The majority of young people and developers want more homes to be built across the country and one of the mechanisms to deliver these homes was housing targets. Starmer has exploited this black hole in Conservative policy and Labour are seen to be dealing with this significant issue, which is that people are finding it difficult to own their own home. Labour’s commitment to reinstating housing targets signifies that they are serious about housebuilding.
Housebuilding is becoming a sticky point for the Conservatives, as it appears they are the newest members of the ‘anti-growth coalition’. There is still time for the Conservatives to get their house in order (apologies, couldn’t resist that pun) but, at this point in time, they are being outflanked by Labour as the party of growth and home ownership.
However, with the right strategy, the PM could use this in his favour in the traditional Blue Wall, where development and regeneration are increasingly becoming ‘bad words’. If Sunak sticks to his current approach and directly challenges Starmer on issues such as the green belt, Sunak should theoretically gain back support in places such as Elmbridge and wider Surrey, places where the Conservatives have suffered losses over time, compounded at the local elections earlier this month. It’s worth noting here that the Liberal Democrats have had success in these areas with a similar approach (i.e. opposing larger planning applications or council-led regeneration), so Conservative success on an anti-development ticket won’t guarantee success and is arguably a longer journey to win back traditionally conservative voters, especially with their recent polling.
A consequence of adopting an anti-development stance is that the party could risk alienating younger generations (including its own party members) who are desperate to own their own home, potentially condemning themselves in future elections. The Conservatives have traditionally been seen as a party of home ownership and ensuring young people can get on the property ladder. Unless the Conservatives can reposition themselves as the party that can help a young person buy their first home, they run the risk of losing more ground to other parties.