What do the public make of Labour's proposed planning reforms?

Dylan DiffordJunior Data Journalist
July 10, 2024, 1:49 PM GMT+0

Public support many of Labour’s housing and planning reforms, but remain sceptical of building on ‘greenbelt’ land

Housebuilding has been one of the major issues taken up the new Labour government in its first week in power, with it featuring prominently in chancellor Rachel Reeves’ speech on Monday. It has long been an issue on which it has been agreed that something has to be done, with Labour hoping their wide-ranging proposals will ensure that something finally is.

In principle, a clear majority of the public are in favour of a large increase in the amount of housebuilding in the UK, with 62% supporting such a policy, more than double the 29% who oppose it. This includes double-digit leads in every region and across all key demographic groups, though with Conservative and Reform voters roughly evenly split on the issue (47% vs 44% for Conservatives, 48% vs 49% for Reform voters). As might be expected, support is stronger among younger adults (71% among 18–24-year-olds, against 60% for over 65s).

The public are similarly supportive of Labour’s more fixed target of building 1.5 million new homes over the next five years, with the pledge receiving support from 61% of Britons.

But there is, of course, a difference between supporting a policy in principle and in practice. When it comes to large amounts of new housing being built in their own local area, public support falls to just 52%, with opposition rising to 41%, and there is a clear jump in the number ‘strongly’ opposed (21%, up from 10%). This ‘not in my backyard’ or ‘NIMBY’ attitude has often been identified as the key stumbling block for new housebuilding projects, even if it does not hold majority support.

Finding ways round such local opposition is central to Labour’s proposed reforms to “get Britain building again”, with one suggested solution being the government setting housebuilding targets for local councils which they must meet. This policy holds the support of 52% of Britons, albeit with a little more opposition (33%) than the government’s national housebuilding target (28%).

While targets are acceptable to the public, they are more sceptical towards the government’s proposed means of enforcing them. Nearly half of Britons (48%) oppose giving ministers the ability to overrule councils and reinstate previously rejected planning applications, with only 36% supporting the policy. Labour voters, however, are the exception, favouring such powers by 48% to 37%.

The prospect of building on the ‘green belt’ has been raised by Labour, who have said they will review boundaries to prioritise brownfield and grey belt land (post-industrial and low-quality areas) for development. Inevitably, this distinction will not be raised when opposition to the policy is mounted, and the results show there is a great reluctance towards allowing new housing to be built on land currently classified as the ‘green belt’. Two-thirds (67%) of the public oppose such a policy, with less than a quarter (23%) viewing it as an acceptable route to fixing the housing crisis.

The ‘green belt’ phrasing we asked about draws majority opposition among every group, regardless of age, region or voting history, pointing to the challenge in changing public perceptions on the issue. The extent to which differing language on the issue will affect support is worthy of a separate study entirely, although this remains an issue on which emotions are likely to vary enormously between the abstract nature of responding to a survey versus the reality of development taking place locally.

But while building on the green belt might provoke across-the-board opposition, building green infrastructure is widely popular. Six in ten (60%) Britons favour ending the current ban in England on building new onshore wind farms, with more strongly supporting such an overturn (30%) than opposing it to any degree (23%). Not only can this policy count on the support of at least half of all groups, it is the most popular of Labour’s proposed reforms among Conservative voters, with 54% in favour of scrapping the ban.

See the full results here

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Photo: Getty

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