Former Tory minister may become Labour’s ‘planning tsar’

Estimated read time 3 min read

Labour has approached a former Conservative minister to help steer through its proposals to bulldoze planning rules, with a flurry of changes expected within days to “get Britain building” millions of new homes.

Nick Boles, who was a planning minister in David Cameron’s coalition government, has been approached for a review of the UK’s National Planning Policy Framework, with the aim of making it easier to build homes, laboratories, digital infrastructure and gigafactories.

Starmer is preparing to announce immediate changes to planning regulations as early as next week, including reinstating mandatory targets for local authorities to build more homes and making it easier to build on green belt land.

Labour is also planning to launch a consultation to decide where to build a series of new towns, with the aim of selecting sites by the end of the year.

Rachel Reeves, the new chancellor, has put planning reform at the heart of her growth plans, arguing that none of the party’s broader housebuilding and infrastructure plans will work without it.

Party sources said that Boles, who switched his allegiance from the Tories to Labour in late 2022 shortly after Liz Truss’s disastrous mini-budget, could be made a “planning tsar” to help pilot a broad-ranging review of the system.

Nick Boles

Boles, who made his name as a minister by pushing for wide-ranging planning reform, has criticised the Conservative party for dropping the agenda under pressure from backbench MPs.

Labour has promised to restore the requirement for local authorities to hit population-based housing targets, which was dropped last year by Michael Gove when he was housing secretary.

More recently Boles has been advising Starmer’s shadow cabinet on its preparations for government. A Labour source told PoliticsHome earlier this year: “While there’s still much work to be done to win a general election, we owe it to the public to ensure we’re prepared to govern, given we’d inherit a complete mess from the Tories. Leaning on the expertise of those who have been at the heart of government is an important part of that work.”

In May, Boles introduced Reeves at an event in the City, telling the audience: “Rachel and I were elected first time to parliament on the same day in 2010. And within months, it was clear to all of us on the Conservative [benches that] whenever Labour got its act together … to a point where it was poised to return to government, Rachel Reeves would be close to the very top of it.

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Launching one of the most radical shake-ups for planning regulation in decades could prove politically risky for Labour, with the changes likely to pave the way for construction projects that could prove locally unpopular.

Successive governments have struggled to make changes amid stiff opposition. However, the party hopes that by moving early in his premiership, fresh from a landslide victory, and building a broader base of political support, Starmer can give the shake-up more chance of making progress.

It is also expected to take time for changes in regulations to have an impact on construction, adding to the urgency of the changes should Labour want to be able to point to a track record of housing delivery come the next general election in 2029.

In its manifesto Labour said it would make changes to forge ahead with new roads, railways, reservoirs, and other nationally significant infrastructure. It would also set out new national policy statements to prioritise construction projects.


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