Keir Starmer promises radical reforms to spur new era of housebuilding

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Sir Keir Starmer has promised to “bulldoze” the planning system and work with the private sector to unleash a “big build” across the UK as part of radical action to accelerate housebuilding.

Starmer used his party conference speech on Tuesday to promise that Labour would build new towns and also “speed ahead” on the transition to a low-carbon economy if it returns to power.

Speaking for an hour, the Labour leader criticised what he called the political and economic chaos of recent years under multiple shortlived Conservative administrations, insisting his party would offer a return to stability.

He claimed there was little to show for 13 years of Tory government in contrast to the achievements of the New Labour government from 1997 to 2010.

“Thirteen years of ‘things can only get better’ versus 13 years of ‘things have only got worse’,” he said. If Labour won the general election expected next year, Starmer said he would oversee a “decade of national renewal”.

Along with offering stability in “an age of insecurity”, he said Labour would offer hope: “What is broken can be repaired, what is ruined can be rebuilt,” he told a hall packed with Labour activists.

Starmer’s housebuilding proposals include planning reforms, a generation of “new towns”, the creation of a “planning passport” to fast-track brownfield schemes and a policy of allowing first-time buyers “first dibs” on buying new-build developments.

Labour has set a target of building 1.5mn homes during a five-year Parliament, equivalent to 300,000 a year. That was previously the Conservative government’s target but ministers have recently watered it down.

“Our Labour era will . . . unleash the ‘big build’,” Starmer said. He added Labour would “bulldoze through” the UK’s “restrictive planning system”.

Starmer pledged a Labour government would bring about higher economic growth, safer streets, and cheaper homegrown power through a state-owned company called GB Energy, which would work with the private sector on new projects.

The Labour leader took aim at the “chaos and crisis” there had been under five Conservative prime ministers in seven years, noting the country was now gripped by a cost of living crisis.

He urged Conservatives who were looking “in horror at the descent of your party into the murky waters of populism and conspiracy” to join Labour, which had shared values on issues such as crime, fiscal discipline and a commitment to the four-nation Union.

With a general election expected next year, Labour is an average of 16 points ahead of Rishi Sunak’s ruling Conservative party in the polls, creating a buzz of expectation of election victory in Liverpool.

The Labour leader’s speech was disrupted as it began by a protester who ran up to him on stage and sprinkled glitter on his shoulder.

Starmer responded by removing his jacket and rolling up his shirt sleeves, adding that anyone who thought he would be unnerved by the protest did not know him.

He warned the country faced a “hard” journey ahead but insisted the party had a vision for a “decade of national renewal”.

Delivered against a backdrop of the British flag, Starmer’s speech was an attempt to reassure the country that it could safely vote for change with Labour.

He said he wanted to fight the next election on economic growth, criticising Sunak’s decision to scrap the northern leg of the HS2 high-speed railway as an example of the government’s failures.

Starmer said that unlike the Tory government, which has rowed back on some of its net zero policies, the Labour party would “speed ahead” in Britain’s journey towards a low-carbon economy.

He also criticised his own party for veering sharply to the left for several years under his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn, saying that under his leadership Labour is “no longer a party of protest”.

The Labour leader said he utterly condemned the “senseless murder” of men, women and children in Israel by “the terrorists of Hamas”.

He said he believed in a two-state solution but said Hamas’s action had done nothing to help Palestinians. “Israel must always have the right to defend her people,” he said to a standing ovation.

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