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Labour MP Wants Party To Commit To Build 450,000 Homes A Year

(Alamy)

7 min read

Labour MP Andrew Western, a self-styled YIMBY (yes in my back yard) champion in parliament, has said he would like to see his party commit to a mandatory target of building 450,000 homes a year in Government in order to tackle the UK's housing crisis.

Western, MP for Stretford and Urmston, spoke to PoliticsHome about planning reform and Britain’s chronic shortage of homes. Data from the National Housing Federation suggests England has to build 340,000 homes per year by 2031 to hit current demand. 

The Labour MP believes his Party should eventually commit to a housing target of 450,000 homes per year while in office – 150,000 more than the party’s current pledge. The current Conservative government says it is "committed" to its manifesto pledge of building 300,000 homes by the mid-2020s but scrapped the mandatory target after a rebellion by more than 50 of its own MPs. 

Western said his proposal for Labour to commit to a target of 450,000 "brings us back to the European average of homes per capita in about 25 years”.

“But at this moment in time, given how dreadfully the Tories are failing on housebuilding, any target that is binding should be welcome – I would personally have 450,000,” he told PoliticsHome. 

Labour leader Keir Starmer has relentlessly criticised the Government for siding with its anti-development faction and has since promised that, if elected, he would reinstate the 300,000 target.

Housing has become an issue of increased urgency over the last 12 months, particularly since Sunak dropped mandatory housing targets.

Western told PoliticsHome he was “really pleased” with Labour’s position on housing. However, he made it clear that he hoped the existing commitment “could be scaled up in the future”.

“There are people who say [the target should be] upwards of 500,000," he continued. "Nobody’s necessarily wrong in advocating for a higher number. But I'm really relaxed about the fact that we need to be pragmatic and get on with things.

“There is a big piece of work to do given how much the housing and development market is struggling at the moment.” 

In December 2022, Western was elected as an MP for Stretford and Urmston after standing in a by-election, retaining the seat for Labour. The seat was made available after former shadow education secretary Kate Green left Parliament, and was duly appointed as Great Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham's deputy for Safer and Stronger Communities.

Prior to becoming an MP, Western was leader of Trafford Council for four years and a long-serving Labour councillor.

He admitted that he talks about housing “a lot”. During his maiden speech in the House of Commons he implored the Government “build, build, build” to plug gaps in Britain’s chronic shortage of homes.

But despite Western's enthusiasm and persistence to shake up the planning system, he does not consider himself as a “housing person”. What really motivates him is addressing “inequality” and “intergenerational unfairness”, issues that the housing crisis has shone a spotlight on recently. 

“Generational inequality is rampant at the moment, largely because of the cost of homes in this country,” he added.

Data from the Institute for Fiscal Studies published this week suggested four in ten young people do not expect to own a home in their lifetime.

The average age of a first-time buyer was 32 in 2022, two years older than a decade ago, according to building society Halifax; while statistics from Statista, a data website, found those under 35 made up ten per cent of homeowners in England.

As well as focusing on the prognosis, the self-proclaimed YIMBY MP has proposed several remedies to solve Britain’s housing shortage.

Western has called for major reform to permitted uses of protected Green Belt land, which he claimed was a “sacred cow” in British politics.

He also argued that any future Government must scrap the Town and Country Planning Act (TCPA) 1947. He has been unequivocal in his view that it is an obstacle to building and called for it to be scrapped

This technical piece of legislation, brought in by former Labour prime minister Clement Atlee, makes getting the green light for housing more difficult. Under the system, new housing developments, for example, are only ever approved on a case-by-case basis.

Research from Centre for Cities, a think tank, suggests the TCPA has “encouraged an unpredictable system that has continued to hamper housebuilding over recent decades”.

To make planning slicker and quicker, Western has called for a zoning system to allocate land for certain types of development.

“If you looked at the most obvious three [types of development], you'd have areas where it was appropriate for high rise, so city centres might be a very obvious example of that. You'd have areas that clearly suit industrial space,” he said.

"The third... is suburban areas suitable for housing. If a compliant application for a skyscraper comes forward, it could be approved in the city centre designated space, but you wouldn't approve it necessarily in the industrial space, and certainly wouldn't approve it in the suburban space."

Western’s most radical idea lies in his support for a Builder’s Remedy. The proposal, which was first implemented in California in the US, penalises local authorities for not building enough homes and forces more properties on their patch.

However, Western claimed that by doing this alone, local councils could game the system and blame the central Government for imposing a new development on their area. To make this policy effective, he believed ministers must take funding away from councils who refuse to meet their housing targets.

“I think you would have to heavily fine authorities as well," he continued. “[This is] in order to make them not just use that work around to get homes they probably want, because they know that they've got significant local waiting lists… [but] without having to take the personal responsibility for getting them built."

His proposal shares a remarkable similarity with the one set out by the Canadian Conservative Party's Pierre Poilievre, who has committed to fining “big city governments” who block homeownership and housebuilding. 

This is not the first time Western’s housing beliefs have been compared to Conservatives.

Many prominent British Conservative MPs have even praised him for his robust views on planning reform. Simon Clarke, who served as Levelling-up Secretary under former prime minister Liz Truss, tweeted that Western was his new “favourite” Labour MP after making his pro-housing views very clear.

Western said these plaudits on the right “worried me a little bit at first”. 

“I think, basically, what separates us is that I'm an interventionist rather than a deregulator," he said.

“I would want to intervene to take the steps that, yes, free up developers, house builders to build the homes we need. But there is the issue of what you do about the crises that have been created in the housing system at the moment. So for instance, I'm fully supportive of the Renter's Reform Bill."

He told PoliticsHome that Labour is prepared to have “difficult conversations” around planning reform, anticipating that they are likely to face their own tensions on housing if they win the next general election.

Rupa Huq, Labour MP for Ealing and Acton, has criticised new housing developments in her own constituency. Ex-shadow chancellor John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harringdon, also criticised Starmer’s commitment to build on the Green Belt on Twitter.

But Western was relaxed about the possibility of a serious rift between pro-housing Labour MPs and its NIMBY wing.

“Individual MPs always need to have the right to represent their constituents," he said.

“What I would say, though, it seems pretty apparent to me [building on the Green Belt] will be in Labour's manifesto. It is critical, not just to tackling the housing crisis, but also to delivering the fastest sustained economic growth in the G7, which is one of our key missions for the next Labour government.

“Personally, I don't see a way that you can deliver that economic growth without ensuring rapid house building.”

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