Labour vows for Clement Attlee-style ‘new towns’


The Labour Party has pledged to build new towns reminiscent of the Clement Attlee government after the Second World War.

Labour has vowed to build 1.5 million new homes across the country over the course of the next parliament, of which new towns will form a key part.

Between August 1945 and December 1951 Atlee’s government built over a million new homes across England, Scotland and Wales, including over 800,000 new council houses, despite dealing with manpower and materials challenges.

Angela Rayner, deputy leader, said: “Labour’s New Towns are just one part of our ambitious house-building agenda which will see swathes of good quality, affordable houses built in the national interest.

“Developers who deliver on their obligations to build high quality, well-designed and sustainable affordable housing, with green spaces and transport links and schools and GP surgeries nearby, will experience a new dawn under Labour. But those who have wriggled out of their responsibilities for too long will be robustly held to account.

“Labour’s towns of the future will be built on the foundations of our past. The post-war period taught us that when the government plays a strategic role in housebuilding, we can turbo-charge growth to the benefit of working people across Britain. That is what Labour’s plans will achieve.”

Angela Rayner

If the party wins the next election the plan is to set up a New Town Commission within six months, listing potential sites, which will be decided on within a year.

Labour is proposing building high density housing with good links to town and city centres, as well as access to nature and parks.

Some 40% of Labour’s new homes are planned to be ‘affordable’, with a mixture of social and council homes.

Two planning consultants responded positively to Labour’s announcement. Albeit they noted that the party may find it difficult to establish these new towns quickly, given the challenge of nimbyism and having to pass a fresh act through parliament to get the ball rolling.

Antony Duthie, regional director of planning consultancy Lanpro, said: “Whether Labour’s new towns policy can genuinely address the escalating housing crisis – or whether it fails, as the ‘eco towns’ and so many other similar proposals did before – will of course rest in the detail.

“Today’s announcement boldly proposes that a Commission would be set up within just six months and a list of sites decided within a year. Since this would this require a new act of parliament as it did in the post-war period, it may be committing to too much too soon.

“Furthermore, there’s the question of willing landowners and contractual negotiations with developers, presumably involving compulsory purchase: it’s not a quick fix by any stretch of the imagination.”

He added: “If you then throw into the mix the thorny subject of Green Belt protection – the function of which is inherently misunderstood and leads to very emotive objections; also viability considerations, the new requirement for biodiversity net gain and the complexities of infrastructure delivery, the delivery of new towns will be complex and protracted.

“One advantage that this policy might bring is concerning the infinitesimal issue of NIMBYism – in many cases, at least new towns are in the back yard of very few people.

“But while new towns are part of the solution, should we not be focusing first on what’s readily achievable – such as the reintroduction of housing targets and indeed the notion of ‘grey belt’ as already floated by Labour?”

Keir Starmer

Lawrence Turner, director of planning consultants Boyer said: “The task of creating New Towns and developing housing at such a rapid pace is not without its challenges. The political hurdles that come with development on the edge of settlements and the release of Green Belt, is something that has been very difficult for the incumbent government to deliver.

“Conservative voters, who tend to live and oppose development in these areas, have been a significant roadblock to progress for the government over the last 14 years. The decision by Labour to reclassify low-quality areas of Green Belt land for development, known as Grey Belt, is a controversial move that will likely face opposition from environmental groups and local residents.

“However, it is a necessary first step to release the most sustainably located land for much-needed housing. Tough decisions like this will be crucial if Labour is to meet its ambitious housing targets.”

He added: “The reintroduction of housing targets in England and reforms to the planning system are welcomed and are an important component of any plan to address the housing crisis. Without mandatory housing targets and a streamlined planning process, it will be impossible to deliver 300,000 homes per year.

“It is also vital that Labour works with the private sector to fund the development of these new towns. While the government can provide support and incentives for developers to build affordable housing, ultimately it will be private investment that drives the growth of new communities.

“By creating a positive environment for developers and ensuring that land values reflect the need to build affordable housing, New Towns can make significant progress in addressing the housing crisis.”

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