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Election 2024 – What the parties are saying on key planning and development issues

As the 2024 UK General Election approaches, PWA Planning’s Matthew Wyatt, has taken a closer look at the manifestos of the main political parties and how their policies and aspirations are likely to affect the planning and development industry in England.

Housing delivery targets and development locations

The Conservatives have a stated target of building 1.6 million homes over five years, which works out at 320,000 homes per year. They say they will protect the Green Belt from what they call “uncontrolled development”. Instead, they’re focusing on inner cities, promising a record number of homes on brownfield sites in the 20 largest cities through a new fast-track planning route.

Labour has set a target of 1.5 million homes over five years, or 300,000 per year. They plan to restore mandatory housing targets for local authorities and adopt a brownfield-first approach, while also strategically using lower quality ‘grey belt’ sites for housing. They envision a new generation of towns as part of large-scale new communities.

The Liberal Democrats have the largest stated new housing target with an aspiration to build 1.9 million homes over the parliament, or 380,000 per year. They plan to create ten new garden cities and boost community-led developments, allowing councils to buy land at current use value. Financial incentives will be provided to promote the reuse of brownfield sites.

The Green Party hasn’t set a specific housing target but says it will focus on empowering local authorities to make planning decisions. They oppose new nuclear power stations and instead want massive investment in renewable energy.

Reform UK doesn’t commit to a specific housing target but says it wants to unleash housebuilding across the country, focusing on brownfield sites and coastal regeneration areas.

National infrastructure and strategic planning

Labour wants combined and mayoral authorities to plan strategically for housing growth. They’re proposing a ten-year infrastructure strategy, supported by a new National Infrastructure and Service Transformation Authority to set strategic infrastructure priorities.

The Liberal Democrats broadly commit to making Britain a leader in new infrastructure technologies to tackle climate change, though the manifesto lacks specific planning commitments.

The Green Party manifesto says the party aims to decarbonise the energy system by 2030, increasing wind power and other renewable sources.

Reform UK pledges to scrap HS2 and focus on improving transport infrastructure in key regions.

The Conservatives say they want to speed up the planning approval process, cutting it down from four years to just one. They’re also keen on scaling up nuclear power with small modular reactors and have plans for four new prisons.

Planning and the environment

The Liberal Democrats promise to ensure significant biodiversity net gain on new developments, with up to 100% on large schemes.

The Green Party wants to transform the planning system to reduce the environmental impact of construction. They propose requiring full planning permission before any demolition and ensuring new homes use low-carbon technologies. Planning applications would need to include whole life carbon information, and all homes would have to meet the Passivhaus standard.

The Conservatives say they plan to scrap nutrient neutrality rules to unlock 100,000 new homes. Instead, developers will pay a one-off mitigation fee to ensure no net additional pollution. The Conservatives say they also want to cut EU red tape around environmental impact assessments.

Labour says it will resolve the nutrient neutrality crisis without weakening environmental protections. They also want to build high-quality, well-designed, and sustainable homes that enhance climate resilience and nature recovery.

Affordable housing delivery

The Green Party says it aims to build 150,000 homes a year at social rent levels and end Right to Buy. Local plans would set viability levels for development with no room for developer negotiation.

The Reform UK manifesto includes no specific promises regarding affordable housing but says it will prioritise housing access for UK nationals over foreign nationals.

The Conservatives say they will renew the Affordable Housing Programme, focusing on regeneration and community housing. They also want to reduce planning gain contributions on smaller sites and replace the current Section 106 and CIL systems with an Infrastructure Levy.

Labour says it is aiming for the biggest increase in social and affordable housebuilding in a generation. They plan to strengthen planning obligations to ensure more affordable homes and support councils and housing associations to build their capacity.

The Liberal Democrats say they will pledge to build 150,000 social homes a year and give local authorities the power to end Right to Buy in their areas.

Resourcing local authority planning and other planning reforms

Reform UK says it promises a loose fit planning policy for large residential developments based on pre-approved guidelines.

In the Conservatives’ manifesto there’s no mention of resourcing the planning system, but they do rule out the community right to appeal, which they argue would cripple the planning system. Councils will get more powers to manage holiday lets.

Labour says it will fund 300 new planning officers, financed by a stamp duty increase on property purchases by non-UK residents. They also aim to reform the presumption in favour of sustainable development to boost construction and ensure planning authorities have up-to-date local plans.

The Liberal Democrats say they’re committed to properly funding local planning departments and allowing them to set their own fees. They also want to give local authorities new powers to control second homes and short-term lets through a new planning use class and expand neighbourhood planning across England.

The Green Party wants to ensure communities have the funding and powers for appropriate planning decisions and to provide resources for councils to act as guardians of the environment. They also plan to protect school playing fields through rigorous planning controls.

Energy and net zero policy

The focus of the Conservatives is offshore wind, carbon capture, nuclear power (including Great British Nuclear), and solar energy, though with some concern over losing agricultural land to solar farms. The Conservatives also show strong support for fossil fuels, promising new annual licensing rounds for North Sea oil and gas production, new gas power stations to back up renewables, and no ban on new coal mines. There’s no emphasis on phasing out oil and gas in a general sense. The party relies heavily on new technologies and scientific advancements to achieve their aims of a green transition, with ambitious aspirations for sectors like solar energy, aiming for a 70GW solar ambition by 2035.

Labour proposes expanding Great British Nuclear into Great British Energy, aiming to act as both investor and developer in the sector. Like the Conservatives, Labour prioritises new nuclear projects and small modular reactors. They support solar and offshore wind, but with a greater emphasis on offshore wind and a significant push for hydrogen, doubling the government’s target for green hydrogen. Labour also plans to bring back onshore wind, aiming to double existing capacity. Unlike the Conservatives, Labour would not approve new oil and gas projects in the North Sea, though they would honour existing licenses, and they would not grant new coal licenses, aiming for the UK to be powered entirely by green energy by 2030.

The Liberal Democrats aim to achieve net zero by 2045. Key proposals include a ten-year emergency upgrade program to make homes warmer and cheaper to heat, starting with free insulation and heat pumps for low-income households, and ensuring all new homes are zero-carbon. They aim to drive a rooftop solar revolution by expanding incentives for installing solar panels and guaranteeing a fair price for electricity sold back to the grid. The Liberal Democrats plan to invest in renewable power to generate 90% of the UK’s electricity from renewables by 2030. To coordinate these efforts, they propose appointing a Chief Secretary for Sustainability in the Treasury and establishing a Net Zero Delivery Authority. They also plan to establish national and local citizens’ assemblies to involve people in climate decisions and restore the UK’s leadership on climate change by returning international development spending to 0.7% of national income, with a focus on tackling climate change.

The Green Party believes the UK’s climate targets fall short and advocate for a zero-carbon society well ahead of the current 2050 target. They envision wind power providing 70% of the UK’s electricity by 2030, aiming for 80GW of offshore wind, 53GW of onshore wind, and 100GW of solar by 2035. They emphasize investing in energy storage and improving electricity distribution. They consider community energy ownership is key, allowing communities to benefit from selling excess energy. The Greens also commit to cancelling recent fossil fuel licenses and halting new fossil fuel projects, removing oil and gas subsidies, and introducing a carbon tax on fossil fuels based on emissions. They oppose nuclear energy, citing safety, cost, and waste concerns, advocating instead for rapid renewable alternatives.

Reform UK says it aims to scrap the net zero target and related subsidies, arguing this could save the public sector over £30 billion annually for the next 25 years. They propose eliminating the £10 billion in renewable energy subsidies, claiming renewables are not cheaper and have contributed to rising energy bills over the past 15 years. Instead, Reform UK says it will focus on providing cheap, secure energy by fast-tracking licenses for North Sea gas and oil and granting shale gas licenses for two years to test safety, with plans for major production and local compensation schemes if successful. Their strategy also includes fast-tracking clean nuclear energy with new small modular reactors built in Britain, increasing and incentivising ethical UK lithium mining for electric batteries, and exploring other technologies like combined cycle gas turbines, clean synthetic fuel, tidal power, and ‘clean coal mining’.

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