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Election Watch: A Planning Manifest(o) Comparison.

It's Friday and Manifesto Week is officially drawing to a close. Having spent much of the week summarising manifestos, it only seems fitting to use my final post of the week* to draw some comparisons.  

This post uses the same format as the individual summaries, and (again) is focused solely on planning, and planning-related, policies. Purely environmental or property-related pledges are not covered. 

You may recall that, at the start of the week, I predicted there would be a significant amount of consensus between the parties - particularly around the need for more houses, LPA resourcing, and the need for a greener, cleaner, future.  Let's see if I was right.


Let's begin with an area of consensus.

All three of the main parties agree that we need to build more houses, although there is some variance over exactly how many:

  • Labour have pledged to build 1.5 million homes over the next parliament
  • The Conservatives have pledged to build 1.6 million homes over the next parliament; and
  • The Liberal Democrats have pledged to build 1.9 million homes over the same period.

The consensus breaks down, however, when it comes to how those homes are going to be delivered.

Whilst the Lib Dems and Labour both promise to deliver a New Towns programmes; the Conservatives are primarily focused on urban regeneration projects and increasing densities in already built up areas.

All three parties promise a brownfield first approach to development, but clearly differ as to its extent. For the Conservatives it is coupled with a ‘cast iron’ commitment to protect the Green Belt. By contrast, Labour is taking a more pragmatic view, promising a strategic approach to releasing land from the Green Belt, where that is necessary, prioritising lower quality or poorly performing areas of Green Belt land. The Lib-Dems completely avoid the subject of the Green Belt, but have promised to create a new “Wild Belt” focused on nature recovery.

There are similarly clear differences in the parties approaches to affordable housing. 

  • The Lib Dems have promised to deliver 150,000 social homes a year, and ensure that affordable housing is provided on brownfield site, but have not gone into any further details.
  • The Conservatives have pledged to renew the Affordable Homes Programme, but are otherwise silent on the topic of affordable housing.
  • Labour, by contrast, has promised to:
    • Prioritise building homes for social rent;
    • strengthen planning obligations to ensure new developments provide more affordable homes; 
    • change the Affordable Homes Programme so that it delivers more homes from existing funding; and
    •  support councils and housing associations to build capacity and make a greater contribution to affordable housing supply. 

Finally, the Conservatives have committed to stick with the December 2023 revisions to the NPPF. Labour has pledged to reverse them, and the Lib Dems have promised to roll neighbourhood planning out across the whole of England.

Commercial Development & Infrastructure

There is also significant divergence in the parties' approaches to commercial development and infrastructure delivery.

The Lib Dems simply don't have an offer on commercial development in their manifesto. 

Labour has promised to introduce an industrial strategy and revise national planning policy to ensure the 
planning system meets the needs of a modern economy, making it easier to build laboratories, digital infrastructure, and gigafactories. 

The Conservatives have pledged more Freeports and Investment Zones, along with unspecified reforms to ‘planning laws to support places to bring back local market days and regenerate defunct shopping centres’, which the cynic in me can't help but interpret as a call for yet more new permitted development rights….

There is more consensus when it comes to infrastructure delivery. All three parties promise to improve rail connectivity, albeit in different ways, with the Lib Dems potentially bringing back HS2, the Conservatives focused on Northern Powerhouse Rail; and Labour promising a ten-year infrastructure plan backed by a newly created strategic delivery body.

Both Labour and the Conservatives have promised to revisit and update our National Policy Statements. With the Conservatives also promising to scale-back “unmeritorious” judicial reviews, slash the time it takes to get through the NSIP process from four years to one; and reform and simplify the EIA system to speed up consenting. Just how realistic these additional pledges are, however, has yet to be seen.

Planning-Related Environmental Pledges

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is also significant variations in approach when it comes to planning-related environmental pledges.

All three parties express support for renewable energy. Whilst the Lib Dems and Labour are notably enthusiastic; the Conservatives have taken a more heavily caveated approach - maintaining the requirement for local support for onshore wind and resisting solar schemes on the ‘best agricultural land’.

There is also a notable difference in the language used to address nutrient neutrality:

  • Labour have promised to “implement solutions to unlock the building of homes affected by nutrient neutrality without weakening environmental protections”
  • The Conservatives have pledged to abolish “legacy EU ‘nutrient neutrality’ rules …. with developers required in law to pay a one-off mitigation fee so there is no net additional pollution”; and
  • The Lib Dems want to embrace “nature-based solutions to tackle the problem of sewage dumping”.

In practice, these policies may have more in common than first appears. That said, there is a marked difference in their tone and presentation. 

Only the Lib Dems, however, have pledged to ensure that “new developments result in significant net gain for biodiversity, with up to a 100% net gain for large developments”.

The Planning System & Local Government

This is an area where there was far less consensus than I had anticipated.

Whilst the Lib Dems and Labour are united on the need for longer-term funding settlements for local government, and more resources for planning departments; the Conservatives were conspicuously silent on the matter.

They were also an outlier on strategic planning, which is not a part of the Conservative Manifesto planning offer. The Lib Dems, by  contrast, proposed a “strategic Land and Sea Use Framework” and Labour set out a comprehensive policy offer around the return of strategic planning, focused on Combined Authority Areas, Local Growth Plans and new deeper devolution deals.

Labour has also promised to “Reform and strengthen the presumption in favour of sustainable development.” 

The Conservatives have instead doubled down on the policy agenda from the last parliament - promising to introduce the highly controversial Infrastructure Levy and introduce a series of further reforms to address everything from speeding up infrastructure consenting to the building of slurry pits and regenerating shopping centres.

They have also ruled out the introduction of “Labour’s proposed ‘community right to appeal'” which it is claimed “would bring the planning system to its knees” despite this policy not actually appearing in the Labour manifesto at all.**


Whilst there are, admittedly, common themes running through all of the main parties' manifestos; there is far less consensus between them than I had anticipated.

The Conservatives seem to be promising a continuation of their existing planning policy agenda. Including maintaining the December 2023 NPPF revisions and fully implementing the Levelling-Up & Regeneration Act 2023 - even the controversial bits.

Labour is promising something markedly different. A more strategic approach to planning that is heavily focused on delivering more housing. This is backed up by promises to reverse the December 2023 NPPF revisions, introduce effective mechanisms for strategic planning, review Green Belt land (where necessary) and increase resources for LPAs.

The Lib Dems vacillate between the two positions in a manner which could make life extremely interesting, if we end up with either a hung parliament or a governing party with a small working majority.

In any event, no matter what happens on 4 July, it looks as if further changes to the planning system are inevitable. The only real question is whether they will be a revolution or an evolution of the status quo.

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*actually, probably the fortnight. I am considering taking next week off for good behaviour….

** I checked. Twice.