Starmer: We must be honest about need to build homes on green belt land

Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to build 1.5 million homes over the next Parliament
Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to build 1.5 million homes over the next Parliament - Eddie Mulholland

Sir Keir Starmer has said Labour must be “honest” about the need to build on green belt land in order to deliver enough new homes.

The Labour leader is set to reveal “five golden rules” for building on the green belt, which include prioritising areas of “grey belt” land such as disused car parks or scrubland.

Sir Keir, who declared himself a “Yimby” – “Yes in my back yard” – at the Labour conference in October, has pledged to build 1.5 million homes over the next Parliament.

The pledge is a gamble for the Labour leader, who is relying on there being sufficiently widespread frustration at the fact that there are too few homes to meet demand.

He said: “Labour supports brownfield first policies. But we must be honest – we cannot build the homes Britain needs without also releasing some land currently classed as green belt. We’ll prioritise ugly, disused ‘grey belt’ land, and set tough new conditions for releasing that land.”

Labour has said its new class of “grey belt” land would be “poor-quality and ugly areas” of the green belt. An example is an area of Tottenham, north London, in which a development was blocked because the site of a disused petrol station was designated as green belt.

The party has said brownfield land within the green belt would be prioritised first, then “grey belt” land. Genuine nature spots would be ruled out of building plans, while work would be done to improve existing green spaces and make them accessible to the public.

But the Conservatives are likely to characterise the approach as a threat to natural spaces in local communities. With towns and cities set to grow under the plans, Labour has said new infrastructure would accompany house-building projects.

The rate of house-building has risen since the last election, with 202,300 new homes started in 2022-23, compared to 187,870 in 2019-20. But the Government has fallen short of its manifesto commitment to reach 300,000 homes being built annually by the mid-2020s.

The number of planning applications received and granted has dropped to its lowest level on record, having dropped by a fifth under Rishi Sunak, according to Labour analysis.

Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader, criticised the Conservatives for having “failed to distinguish genuine green spaces from ‘grey belt’ land that’s ripe for house-building”.

She added: “Under the Tories, much of the green belt isn’t green, rolling hills, but poor-quality scrubland, mothballed on the outskirts of towns. This ‘grey belt’ land should not be off limits while local people are kept off the housing ladder.”