Housing

Rachel Reeves brings back mandatory housing targets – but Labour has a huge mountain to climb

A combination of planning laws, labour shortages, inflation’s impact on the prices of homes and materials as well as the cost of building safety work has construction across the country 'grinding to a halt'

Labour chancellor Rachel Reeves

Rachel Reeves, Chancellor of the Exchequer, arrives for Prime Minister Keir Starmer first Cabinet meeting in 10 Downing Street. Image: Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street

Chancellor Rachel Reeves said Labour has “done more to unblock the planning system in 72 hours” than the Tories managed in 14 years as she laid out reforms to boost housebuilding.

Labour promised to deliver the planning change to build 1.5 million homes over the next five years. That would mean delivering 300,000 homes a year – a target the Conservatives failed to reach in power and housebuilding levels not seen in the UK since the 1950s.

Reeves laid out a number of planning reforms to hit that mark, including reintroducing mandatory housebuilding targets, pledging to review green belt boundaries, employing 300 more planning officers and reforming the national planning policy framework. The chancellor also promised to end a ban on onshore wind developments and to clear stalled energy and transport projects.

She also reiterated Labour’s pledge to build more social rent homes – as the Big Issue has called for – with housing secretary Angela Rayner set to more detail in the coming weeks.

“Be in no doubt, we are going to get Britain building again,” said Reeves in her first speech since being named the first female chancellor of the Exchequer.

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

“We are going to get Britain’s economy growing again. There is no time to waste. We will end the prevarication and make the necessary choices to fix the foundations.”

Housebuilding targets were made advisory rather than mandatory in 2022. Clare Miller, the group chief executive of Clarion Housing Group, said it was the correct decision to revive mandatory targets.

“The reintroduction of housebuilding targets underlines Labour’s commitment to tackling the housing emergency head on,” said Miller. “It is absolutely right that housing is recognised as a vital part of this country’s infrastructure. Safe, secure and affordable housing is the springboard for better health outcomes, better education outcomes and better employment outcomes.”

Meanwhile, Neil Jefferson, chief executive of the Home Builders Federation, said homebuilders “stand ready” to support the government’s plan for investment, job creation and delivering the new homes the country needs.

He added: “We can only build if we plan effectively and if councils take responsibility for the housing needs of their communities. We also need to address the lack of capacity in local authority planning departments and unblock the 160,000 homes held up by nutrient neutrality.”

However, Labour’s Reeves, housing secretary Rayner and housing minister Matthew Pennycook are on the back foot from day one with a series of gloomy forecasts for Britain’s housebuilding prospects.

A combination of planning laws, labour shortages, inflation’s impact on the prices of homes and materials as well as the cost of building safety work has construction across the country “grinding to a halt”. 

The number of “affordable” homes funded by the government or the Greater London Authority has plummeted, for example. Work started on just 31,425 homes in 2023-24, down 43% from the 55,169 starts in 2022-23.  

Within that, there was also a 15% reduction in the number of homes being built for social rent, with 6,483 starts in 2022-23 and 5,536 in 23-24. 

Housing associations have also stopped building. Work started on just 6,990 homes in the second half of 2023, compared with 16,270 the previous year. 

Data from the G15 group of housing associations in London has found its members were expected
to start work on 1,769 affordable homes in London this year, down from 7,363 last year. 

G15 chair Fiona Fletcher-Smith told a City Hall meeting in December there was a “refocus” from housing associations because of the substandard condition of the country’s housing stock. 

“That refocus is on existing homes, our existing residents, and investing in their homes,” she said. “The G15 will spend £1.5bn per year over the next 10 years on existing homes and getting them up to a decent standard.” 

Andy Hulme, chief executive of G15 member Hyde Group, said the current system setting social housing rents is a “verging on madness”. He said: “We spend £200m a year maintaining and improving our homes, yet we don’t know until three months before the start of the financial year what rent we can charge and therefore whether we’ve got the money to do that.” 

Generally, housebuilding is set to fall to half of its current 300,000 a year target under the Conservatives, according to Savills. 

Figures from the National House Building Council for the first quarter of 2024 saw the number of new homes registered to be built slumped 20% from 27,619 in the same period in 2023 to 21,967 while the number of homes completed dropped 13% to 26,240. 

A wet winter was partially to blame, and there may well be stormy waters ahead for the next government too after making big promises to boost housebuilding on the election trail. 

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? Get in touch and tell us moreBig Issue exists to give homeless and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy of the magazine or get the app from the App Store or Google Play.

Support your local Big Issue vendor

If you can’t get to your local vendor every week, subscribing directly to them online is the best way to support your vendor. Your chosen vendor will receive 50% of the profit from each copy and the rest is invested back into our work to create opportunities for people affected by poverty.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Prison crisis: Early release scheme could see hundreds of prisoners released into homelessness
Barbed wire on a wall at a prison
Prisons

Prison crisis: Early release scheme could see hundreds of prisoners released into homelessness

How can I help homeless people during a UK heatwave?
uk heatwave
Homelessness

How can I help homeless people during a UK heatwave?

Our right to housing is dependent on our immigration status – that's the definition of racism
Homelessness

Our right to housing is dependent on our immigration status – that's the definition of racism

Academics put trackers on homeless people – what they learned could be a 'game-changer'
A homeless person is interviewed on the streets of Sutton
Rough sleeping

Academics put trackers on homeless people – what they learned could be a 'game-changer'

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know