Local elections: could Labour force a shift in housing and planning policy?

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The party’s push to the left could change housing and planning policy – but are the plans as radical as they sound?

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Source: Isabel Infantes / Empics Entertainment

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn launched his party’s housing green paper last Thursday

The Labour party clearly sees housing as a big vote winner. With exactly a fortnight to go until polling day, the party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, unveiled a new package of housing policies, titled Housing for the Many (see Labour housing green paper), last Thursday. 

Ever-increasing problems of housing unaffordability, which are most acute in London and the surrounding Home Counties, are widely reckoned to have been one of the key factors fuelling the party’s recent success in the capital. 

Discontent about housing has also been a key factor propelling the remarkable rise of Momentum, the group set up for Corbyn’s leadership campaign that has since mutated into a movement to champion his radical agenda. 

And the issue of housing and regeneration has often been a flashpoint in mutually damaging local struggles, which have recently pitted centrist Labour-run councils against their more radical grassroots memberships. 

As much of England gears up for the local council elections next week, what impact is Labour’s left turn likely to have on housebuilding and planning? And could public-private partnerships and estate regeneration become a no-no in Labour-run town halls?

The last two decades have seen pragmatism take hold in local government, with councils increasingly willing to engage with business to undertake council housing stock transfers to housing associations and to set up joint ventures with private developers to fund estate regeneration.

Labour shunned what many in the party viewed as the excesses of the 1980s when far-left councils such as Liverpool and Lambeth defied then prime minister Margaret Thatcher by refusing to set budgets that would result in cuts to jobs and services. Pragmatic New Labour local government politicians, such as former Hackney mayor Jules Pipe, were happy to engage with the private sector. 

However, with Corbyn’s leadership entrenched since last year’s general election, next week’s poll will be the first real opportunity for the party’s new and more radical membership to make waves at a local level. 

The focus of interest in this year’s local elections will be London, where every borough seat is being contested, unlike in much of the rest of England, where only one-third of seats will be up for grabs. An exception is Birmingham, which has recently opted for all-out local elections. 

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