Public Consultation + Political Engagement

Top-down or bottom-up? The gap in Labour’s approach to development and devolution

Keir Starmer

Sir Keir Starmer – Credit: House of Commons via CC BY 3.0 bit.ly/3g0ER6a.jpg

It’s February 2021 – Gordon Brown has assembled a team of politicians, academics and lawyers to form the ‘Commission on the UK’s Future’ at the request of Keir Starmer. The grand title of the commission matches its grand task: create a blueprint for redefining the way these isles are governed. Over the course of almost two years, they produce a 155-page report containing 39 recommendations. Stretching across all four nations, ranging from the House of Lords to town halls – the outcome was clear: more devolution.

Scanning the document one of the recommendations proposes resurrecting a legislative device commonly used throughout the reign of Queen Victoria – private local legislation. In the past, this was mainly used to permit the development of canals and railways (ie. Liverpool and Manchester Railway Act 1826). Brown proposes that a Labour government should revitalise this process for the modern day and create a new procedure; Special Local Legislation. His proposals are broad:

“The procedure should apply to legislation promoted by any local authority, combined authority, or other combination of local councils…”

Reading the recommendation, nothing is off limits unless it threatens the integrity of the union thereby giving councils an almost unlimited scope of topics to work with. There is no doubt that English devolution has proven itself in its first decade of regional mayors. Whether it’s Greater Manchester’s ‘Places for Everyone’ or Teeside’s ‘Teesworks’, mayors have proved to be a galvanising force for development. Special Local Legislation could be another lever for City regions and councils to push their agendas forward.

At the Co-op building last week, Labour’s manifesto launch sought to solidify their position as pro-development. Phrases such as ‘streamlining’ and ‘fast-tracking’ were abound. Just a week prior Deputy Leader, Angela Rayner invited developers to work in ‘lock step’ with a potential Labour government to get 1.5 million homes built over the next five years. The vision is to lock this number down with mandatory targets for each local planning authority.

At a national level the priority is obvious: get Britain building.

But as we’ve seen in recent years, the quasi-judicial planning process has become increasingly political, with disagreement between and within councils. This makes one sentence within Brown’s recommendations all the more intriguing:

“Of course there is no way of guaranteeing that the government of the day will not oppose the Special Local Legislation being brought forward.”

Unless planning and development matters are excluded from Special Local Legislation this leaves the door open for sceptical Councils to take their planning concerns to the heart of Parliament.

Could we see suburban boroughs bringing forward legislation to protect their amenity and access to the Green Belt? Could the very tools that Labour are developing to promote growth ultimately hinder it?

At a time when the Home Builders Federation are calling on all parties to ‘take the politics out of housing’ is Keir Starmer at risk of starting a new front on the war against NIMBYism?

This case serves as an example of the paradox at the core of Labour’s current approach to development. While actively advocating to empower local decision makers they will seek to impose mandatory targets from the centre – if the time for implementation comes then they will need to offer a clearer vision for developers and LPAs alike.

Oliver Dorgan is an account manager at Cavendish Consulting, part of their North team in Manchester. Cavendish is the award-winning communications consultancy for the built environment. To find out more, visit cavendishconsulting.com

Selected industry experts bring you insight and expert advice, across a range of sectors.

Subscribe for free to receive our fortnightly round-up of property tips and expertise

Selected industry experts bring you insight and expert advice, across a range of sectors.

Subscribe for free to receive our fortnightly round-up of property tips and expertise

Sign up to receive the Place Daily Briefing

Join more than 13,000 property professionals and receive your free daily round-up of built environment news direct to your inbox

Subscribe

Join more than 13,000 property professionals and sign up to receive your free daily round-up of built environment news direct to your inbox.

By subscribing, you are agreeing to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

"*" indicates required fields

Your Job Field*
Other regional Publications - select below