We need to get the balance right between brownfield and greenfield development and I’m not sure Labour has done that yet
It was all sunny and warm when I arrived in Manchester on Sunday afternoon for the start of the Labour Party conference. Not only was the weather good but Ed Miliband had given the conference a boost on Saturday when he announced that Britain’s future begins with building new homes for the future.
That’s great news for small housebuilders because Miliband declared he wants more competition in the housebuilding market drawing on the Federation of Master Builders’ figures highlighting the dramatic decline in the number of housebuilders over the last 25 years.
So with Miliband setting scene he provided a great warm up to our joint fringe event on Sunday evening with the CPRE. The event aimed to establish whether to use greenfield or brownfield land to house the nation and the meeting room was packed with a wide range of people.
I couldn’t help thinking they were all there anticipating a bust-up between the builders and the environmentalists. Fortunately shadow planning minister Roberta Blackman-Woods MP was on hand to maintain the balance but strangely there was more common ground than expected.
Building any new town would be highly controversial
Shaun Spiers chief executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) accepted the need for more homes but wanted a “brownfield first” policy. Roberta confirmed that a future Labour government would reintroduce this. It makes sense to make use of previously developed land but a strict brownfield first policy wouldn’t be helpful unless it was a positive policy to enable and encourage small housebuilders.
So, one to watch and more lobby work to be done to make sure we get the balance right.
However, just when it looked as though the CPRE was on a high Roberta also confirmed that brownfield wouldn’t be enough and said that the creation of new towns and garden cities would be needed - shock and horror was felt in some corners of the room!
While this might be the case the building of any new town would be highly controversial. Building new homes in every village, town and city would be preferable because it would be putting homes where people need them rather than where government thinks best.
The housing debate will continue to run and I’m sure we are going to hear more over the next of couple of days. Let’s hope though the aspirations will be matched with some more detailed policies so we can all better understand what a future Labour government might do.
Brian Berry is chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders