Lucy Powell has said that she “would not have signed off” a “NIMBY” Labour Party graphic distributed on social media earlier this year that criticised the government’s plans to build on “your green spaces without your say”.
Powell, who currently serves as Shadow Housing Secretary, told a Labour conference fringe event today that she “wouldn’t encourage” the use of the graphic or its message because “we are absolutely not against new housing being built”.
The graphic, posted from Labour’s Twitter account in June, followed opposition to the controversial Tory planning bill, which would change the permission needed from a local planning authority for developers seeking to build.
Responses to the graphic on social media included several accusations of ‘NIMBYism’. LabourList asked what she would say to members who believed that it played into “politically-charged NIMBY sentiments”.
As well as referring to the Labour graphic, attendees at the meeting told the Shelter fringe event that they had seen examples of anti-green belt development leaflets during the local election campaign earlier this year.
The new proposed planning system, outlined by the Conservatives in the government’s planning bill, would see different areas designated within local plans into three distinct zones for planning purposes: protected; renewal or growth.
Protected zones would include areas defined nationally, such as green belt land, and others designated locally on the basis of national policy, with development allowed within restrictions to be set out by the national planning policy framework.
Renewal zones would cover existing built areas where smaller scale developments are deemed to be appropriate. Development would be enabled through a mixture of permitted development and ‘permission in principle’.
Growth zones would be those seen as “suitable for substantial development”. Initial planning permission would be automatically given to developers with details agreed by officials, cutting out public objections from local residents.
Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Steve Reed MP urged local authorities to help force a U-turn on the proposals in a speech to the Local Government Association conference earlier this year.
The government’s proposals for the planning system have reportedly been paused following Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle last week.
Asked this afternoon whether the party is failing to make the moral argument on housing, Shadow Housing Secretary Powell said that Labour “can’t look like we’re against homebuilding because we’re not”.
Vauxhall MP Florence Eshalomi, a member of the housing, communities and local government select committee, told the event that Labour “needs to have the grown up conversations” because “it’s the people who need the housing who suffer” from controversies around the green belt.
The “sheer level of incompetence” on show in the London housing market, including by Labour councils, was “the reason I got involved in politics”, Eshalomi said. Her constituency is home to a number of large-scale luxury housing developments, despite ranking sixth of 20 parliamentary constituencies with the highest child poverty rates.
Tower Hamlets deputy mayor Rachel Blake argued that “social housing is a social justice issue”. She paid tribute to Labour councillors “advocating for people who are struggling on the housing register” and applauded Labour’s planned reforms to the compulsory purchase system.
The event, hosted by Shelter, was titled ‘Winning the Fight for Home: Labour’s plan for a modern era of social housing’. Research published by the charity earlier this year found that one in three adults in the UK are impacted by the housing crisis.
In her speech to conference today, Powell launched Labour’s ‘great housing challenge’ with reforms including “a massive increase in council and social homes” and new powers for local authorities to buy and develop land for housing. The proposals will be debated this afternoon.