New chancellor Rachel Reeves sets out plans to get Britain building new infrastructure and housing

Labour has reversed the ban on onshore wind projects and will bring back mandatory housing targets, Rachel Reeves has announced in her first major speech as chancellor.

No large-scale onshore wind farms have been built in England in almost 10 years after the Conservative-led government introduced strict planning policy tests applying only to such projects.


Source: HM Treasury / Flickr

The new chancellor addressing Treasury staff on Friday last week

Speaking this morning, the UK’s new chancellor announced that the de facto ban would be scrapped and that decisions on onshore projects would now be taken nationally rather than locally.

A policy statement subsequently released by the government stated that the two policy tests, introduced in 2015, would “no longer apply”, with the changes taking effect from today.

On housing, Reeves announced that the government would urgently reform the National Planning Policy Framework, consulting on changes before the end of this month.

Mandatory targets were scrapped in December last year when then-housing secretary Michael Gove published his much-delayed NPPF.

“In these first 72 hours we have done more to reform the planning system than previous governments have done in the last 14 years,” Reeves said this morning.

Changes to planning policy will include the return of mandatory targets, a new priority given to energy projects and changes to the ways ministers use powers for direct intervention.

She said the housing secretary, Angela Rayner, had already recovered two planning appeals for data centres in Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire and was set to write to local mayors and the Office for Investment to ensure any investment opportunities with planning considerations are referred to herself and Reeves.

Rayner will also write to local authorities to make clear that local plans and green belt reviews are expected, with priority given to brownfield and grey-belt development.

Stephen Bell, the chief executive of planning consultant Turley, said: “There’s widespread misunderstanding of what the Green Belt is, and a political unwillingness to consider whether the policies related to it remain fit for purpose.

”We need to find an appropriate balance between the importance of meeting housing and economic needs and protecting land that genuinely needs to be kept open. An independent and objective review of the purposes of and policy for the green belt should be undertaken that understands and reflects that balance.”  

The chancellor also re-stated that local authorities would be supported with 300 new planning officers, which was a manifesto pledge, and announced the creation of a new taskforce to accelerate stalled housing sites.

This taskforce will begin with Liverpool Central Docks, Northstowe, Langley Sutton Coalfield, and Worcester Parkway, which together would account for more than 14,000 homes.

Reeves insisted that Labour would not be increasing housebuilding by central decree.

“It will still be, in the first instance, up to local communities and local authorities to decide where housing is built,” she said.

“But we will bring back mandatory targets so the answer cannot always be no.”

Reeves has instructed transport secretary Louise Haigh and energy secretary Ed Miliband to prioritise decisions on delayed infrastructure projects.

She said the government would set out new policy intentions for critical infrastructure in the coming months, ahead of updating national policy statements within the year.

Reeves also revealed that she has set up a growth delivery unit within the Treasury and said that the new government’s “growth mission board” would meet before the end of the month.

> Also read: New towns, 1.5million homes and renewing the UK’s infrastructure…. what the new government has promised for the built environment

Colin Brown, head of planning and development at property consultant Carter Jonas, said the “change of tone” from the new government was “welcome and refreshing” but added he would need to “see a lot more detail on how they intend to implement these changes”.

Paul Rickard, managing director of Pocket Living, said the speech was a “welcome first step in ending the housing delivery crisis” and that the restoration of national housing targets would “help focus the minds of local authority decision-making”.

“However, whilst significant, planning reform alone is not enough to deliver the homes we need and we look forward to a comprehensive agenda coming forward around public-private delivery partnerships, support for SME developers to get building again, and a strong focus on boosting the capacity of the construction sector,” he said.

Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation, welcomed the return of targets and urged the government to “consider bold targets for build-to-rent and affordable housing specifically”.

The chief executive of housing association The Hyde Group, Andy Hulme, said it was “heartening” to see the new government using its first working day in office to move forwards on planning and said the reintroduction of local housing targets was an “important step”.

But he said it was “essential” that reforms are “accompanied by a clear commitment to a long term rent settlement for social housing providers, to provide the resources and capacity for not-for-profit charities to play our part in building these new homes and continuing to invest in the homes we already provide.”