Will Keir’s Green Belt Green Light Win Votes?

Will Keir’s Green Belt Green Light Win Votes?

In May 2023, Keir Starmer announced that Labour would “back builders, not blockers” and would give English councils more powers to build on the Green Belt if they come into power. It was a bold move – for years Governments have hinted at finally taking action before rolling back under pressure from their backbenches. On paper, Labour’s is a good policy. But if we look at the politics of the announcement, was it a savvy political move and will it help his electoral chances? 

You can probably guess that the short answer is no. But here are some reasons why announcing this now (rather than waiting until they’re actually in power) might not have been a great idea for Labour – beyond simply being able to picture the Tory and Lib Dem leaflets saying “Labour will build on your Green Belt”. 

The Green Belt is one of those things that really elicits an emotive response from a lot of people across the country. Despite being designed specifically to stop the unrestricted sprawl of built-up areas and prevent neighbouring towns from merging into each other, it has taken on a whole new meaning for some – being seen as synonymous with open green fields that make the countryside special. 

But the reality of the Green Belt is more complicated. Yes, it has value in combatting the above, but in reality there is an element of it that is previously developed and, frankly, of little value. I once worked on a site in the Green Belt that was a car park next to a car factory and a power station, where one councillor remarked that “the only way this place will be Green Belt again is if [they] paint the concrete green”. Yet we were met with opposition throughout. It’s become more and more clear that the Green Belt needs reassessing. Not scrapping, just checking whether everything in it is worth saving. 


Only about 12.5% of land in England is Green Belt (and is on the up – growing for the first time in a decade last year), yet it’s one of the most emotive issues in housing.  

This may be where part of the issue lies – do people think Green Belt means what it actually is, or do they think it means all green space? In reality, probably not. The fact that 20% of the population don’t know how they feel about Green Belt development potentially suggests they don’t. 

Perhaps the reason it’s such an emotive issue politically is that it’s something that affects more than half of MPs in England, and our local election system – with elections pretty much every year, means that there’s never the space to actually have a balanced conversation about it. No local councillor wants to give their rivals the opportunity to say that they want to build over the Green Belt – even if it is a car park. 


A major reason why MPs are so scared to touch the Green Belt is that it affects so many of them. There are 319 seats in England that have some Green Belt land in them (out of 533), 188 of them are Tory seats, 120 Labour. 

You can see why Tory MPs in particular want to preserve the Green Belt – 81% of Green Belt land falls in Tory boundaries, compared to 15% in Labour seats. So, while a larger proportion of Labour seats have Green Belt than any other party (69% of Labour seats vs 56% of Tory seats), they’re only talking about a tiny amount of land. 


Clearly, this is a policy that affects all parties, but is particularly emotive in Conservative areas, many of which Labour will be pushing for at the next election if they want to win a majority. So, you would think they would focus on pushing policies that appeal more to Tory voters. Especially in their target seats. 

I hate to break it to Sir Keir but 9 of Labour’s top 10 target seats for the next election include Green Belt land. In 7 of these, more than a third of land is Green Belt.  

So clearly in these seats there’s an easy win for the Tories if they want to go hard on anti-development rhetoric. The battle in these constituencies is not going to be subtle, so do not expect the incumbents’ activists to be nuanced in their messaging. There will be no “where appropriate” suffix on those Tory “Labour will build on your Green Belt” leaflets.  

So in reality, Labour’s housing policy should probably be fairly quiet on Green Belt development. Especially given that… 


You probably could have guessed this, but there is very little public support for developing new homes on the Green Belt. A YouGov poll from last week highlights that just under 60% of the public oppose more housing on the Green Belt, with only 23% actually expressing support. 

More than that though, it’s not something that wins in any voter group – ironically even fewer Labour voters support building more homes on Green Belt land than Tories (23% vs 27%) – and opposition is obviously stronger amongst Tory voters – 65% opposing to some extent. 

Tory voters are also less likely to be undecided – only 8% ‘don’t know’, compared to 18% nationally, suggesting there’s little likelihood of this position changing. 

Londoners are the most positive about Green Belt (32% at least somewhat support), though more than a fifth don’t know, while those key Red Wall areas in the Midlands and North that Labour needs to win round are in generally opposed. 

Even amongst young people – for whom housing is now considered the second biggest issue facing the country according to YouGov – only 20% support more homes on Green Belt to some extent, with 40% of them having no idea. 

Housing be a bigger issue at this election than at previous elections – now a top 5 issue nationally in YouGov’s tracker – so what parties say about housing will have more weight than normal. But there’s clearly much to be done on shaping the debate and understanding of key housing issues – which is not happening right now. 

So ultimately, this is a policy that affects just a tiny bit of land but that has major political and public interest, appealing to no one. Far from winning Labour voters, it actually has the potential to lose them votes and hamper their chances in those all-important target seats. 

If you would like to find out more about the impacts of new policy announcements ahead of the next election, contact us here.

There’s more to these election results than meets the eye… 

There’s more to these election results than meets the eye… 

There is a tendency among political commentators and analysts to put too much weight on the outcomes of local elections when a general election is looming. This is understandable – you don’t want to risk getting bogged down in the detail to the point where it becomes dull for those who just want a broad overview. 

But that detail is pretty crucial, and without it you lose a lot of the colour. For example, after the locals the BBC highlighted that, if you were to apply these results to a national election, Labour would have a 9 percentage point (ppt) lead. Two days later, polls were showing Labour at 12 or even 19ppt ahead. Local elections do not predict general elections. They just don’t. 

With the dust now settling, I’ve looked at some of the key trends and outcomes and what to look out for in the year ahead to the next general election. Because there’s so much to say, I’ve given you a quick snapshot  – but you can click the orange “find out more” buttons if you want to go a little further. 

1. This election will not predict the general election. 

Local elections do not predict general elections – even if they’re on the same day: 

  • In 1997 (same day): Labour won a historic landslide at the General Election, but only gained 1 councillor in the locals. 
  • In 2010 (same day): The Conservatives and Lib Dems end up in Coalition Government, but both lost 100 councillors each. In contrast, Labour lost the General Election but gained 417 councillors. 
  • In 2019 (6 months apart): The Conservatives lost 1,300 seats at the local elections, but gained an 80 seat majority in Parliament 6 months later. 
Find out more

There is a tendency for commentators and politicians alike to look at the results of a local election and think they can give you an insight into the next General Election. Often, they absolutely do not – even if they happen on the same day. 

Remember 1997, when Labour stormed to a landslide majority of 197 MPs? On the same day, they gained 1 councillor. In 2010, when 13 years of Labour government ended and the Conservative/Lib Dem Coalition came to be, Labour gained 417 councillors while the Tories and Lib Dems lost more than 100 each. 

And most recently, in 2019 – the same year that this year’s seats were up for election – the Tories lost 1,300 seats just six months before winning an 80-seat majority in Westminster. 

And you only have to look at the polls. The stat that came out after the elections was that Labour would have a 9ppt lead in a national poll but opinion polls since the local elections have reverted back to the general 12-19ppt lead for Labour which we’ve come to expect. There were no elections in London, Wales, or Scotland, all of which will see a decent Labour vote. 

There is too much uncertainty. Too much that could change. After all, a year is 52 long times in politics. 

2. The Tories’ defeat is greater than you think. 

These results shouldn’t be seen in isolation. It’s not just the 1,000 the Conservatives lost this year – they also lost 1,300 the last time these seats were up. That’s 2,300 councillors lost in just two election cycles.  

Plus, they’ve lost old-school Tory seats like in South Oxford (down 33 seats to 1 in just 8 years) and Folkestone (down 22 seats to 5 in 8 years)

And Labour absolutely did better and they’re now the biggest party in local politics. In 2019 (the last election for these seats) they lost 84 councillors, this time they gained 537. Most of the Tory losses in 2019 were to Liberal Democrats, Greens and Independents.

Find out more

That the Conservatives losing 1,000 seats was ‘expectation management’ before the election ignores the 1,300 seat loss last time these seats were up. It means 2,300 seats lost in 4 years – and in places that have a long history of being Tory heartlands. In 2015, the Tories had 33 of 36 seats in South Oxfordshire, today they have one. In Folkestone & Hythe they had 22 out of 30 seats in 2015, today they have five.

The latter is particularly interesting – one of the main hotspots for illegal boats landing in the UK is now expected to return a Green-Labour coalition.

And for all the bluster about Keir Starmer’s message not getting through on the doorstep, the truth is that Labour made 537 gains in a set of seats that they lost 84 of last time around – it was the Lib Dems, Greens and Independents that were the winners in 2019. This change should not be overlooked. They are now the biggest party in local politics for the first time since 2002.

There were some glimmers of hope for the Conservatives in the inability of Reform to really make headway as an alternative on the right of centre, wins in areas that Labour managed poorly (Leicester and Slough particularly), and that there is still probably 17 months to turn things around.

3. Rise of the alternatives (and tactical voting).

The Lib Dem and Green rises are a proper trend now – this is the fifth set of elections in a row in which they’ve made gains. Between them, they now have 20% of all council seats, up from 16% last year.

Plus, resentment on the left will mean more tactical voting to oust Conservatives in key areas like the Blue Wall. Polling after the election shows that 62% of likely Labour voters and 70% of likely Lib Dem voters would consider voting tactically to ensure the party they dislike (let’s face it, the Tories) lose. Only 38% of Tories would do the same.

Find out more

The big winners this year were the Lib Dems and Greens, but this should not be seen as a one-off. In fact, it’s the fifth year in a row that both parties have gained councillors. This is a trend that has fundamentally shifted the landscape of local politics, with the two parties together holding 20% of all UK council seats – up from 16% last year and 14% when these seats were last contested. The Greens even won their first council outright, building on their performance there in 2019 and going from five to 24 seats in just two election cycles.

These results, and the successes in their campaigning, should not be underplayed. But nor should the role of tactical voting, which many have attributed to some of this success and which could be a big factor at the next election. Polling of voters in the ‘Blue Wall’, conducted just days after the elections by Redfield & Wilton, shows that 62% of likely Labour voters and 70% of likely Lib Dem voters would consider voting tactically to ensure the party they dislike (let’s face it, the Tories) loses. Contrary to this, only 38% of Tory voters would consider tactical voting – perhaps because of a lack of choice on their side of the spectrum.

Should this continue to the general election, the Tories might find in some areas that their opposition vote is not quite as split as they expect.

4. Housing will be a headache for all parties because of their own local NIMBYs.

There has been a 557% increase in the number of councils with No Overall Control in 10 years – and it gets bigger every year. But each one is different, so the specific party dynamics in those areas is more important to look at.

Housing (or a lack thereof) has already been cited by some as a reason the Conservatives lost seats. But the rise of local NIMBY parties might not help matters: Lib Dems and Greens are notorious NIMBYs at a local level. Interestingly, you’re statistically more likely to see a planning application granted in a Tory or NOC council than in a Labour one (according to 2021/2 figures – the most recent available).

Find out more

After the elections, a growing divide became apparent amongst the Conservatives: is the problem that we’re building too many houses (or too many in the “wrong places”), or are we building too few? This divide has already been seen, with influential Tory MPs in ‘Red Wall’ areas saying that the Conservatives’ conservatism on housing delivery will cost them the votes of countless younger people.

The rise of the Lib Dems and Greens, as well as the ever-growing number of councils under No Overall Control (up from 14 in 2013 to 92 in 2023 – a 557% increase in 10 years), does make things look less certain. The Greens have highly nuanced housing policies, while Lib Dem councillors’ notorious NIMBY tendencies stand in stark contrast to their national housing target policy that is far beyond what the other main parties would offer.

The Lib Dems have a tried and tested approach: win councils, then turn them into campaigning organisations to win the local MP. This is the model that Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy used so well to grow the party in the 1990s and 2000s, and we’ll expect to see this happen again over the next year in areas like Guildford, Elmbridge, and Dacorum – all key commuter areas that usually would be ripe for housing growth.

Meanwhile, where the Greens lead councils it has been significantly harder to get planning applications through. In the most recent year for which data is available, these councils were well down the league table on the proportion of applications that were approved.

And for the No Overall Control areas – the devil will be in the detail: on paper, NOC councils rank second for the proportion of their applications that are granted, behind only the Conservatives. However, where the Greens and Lib Dems have leading roles in the coalitions it’s likely to be harder to get things through. Fortunately, our teams are expert at guiding clients through this!


5. It’s the ‘don’t knows’ and the switchers you need to watch out for.

Rather than focus on these local election results, it’s the ‘don’t knows’ you need to watch. Most polls exclude them, but they’re really the ones who will decide the next General Election.

About 18% of people haven’t decided who they’ll vote for: our polling from March 2023 shows that 39% of these ‘don’t knows’ voted Tory in 2019. If they went back, it would add 7ppt to the Tories’ polling numbers. The ‘don’t knows’ are all to play for – and winning them over is crucial.

As for the switchers, 17% of 2019 Tory voters now say they’d vote for Labour and, importantly, 20% of those who didn’t vote in 2019 say the same. Crossing that line is a big step – it will be very hard for the Tories to win these back.

Find out more

The ‘don’t knows’ are pretty crucial ahead of the election. In March 2023 we polled a representative sample of the GB population – the results were largely on parr with other polls, but the figures we were most interested in are those who don’t know how they’ll vote, and those who didn’t vote in 2019. These people are usually removed from opinion polls, but they are arguably the most interesting cohorts.

These groups will decide what to do as we get closer to the election – and these should be the ones that the parties try to appeal to – it’s easier to win them now than before they switch.

18% of our respondents don’t know who they’d vote for in an election, almost as many as those who said they will vote Conservative. This group is key for the Tories right now because 39% of them voted Conservative in 2019, and only 12% of them voted Labour. If this 39% went back, that’s 7ppt to add to the Tories.

We also found that more than 50% of those who didn’t vote in 2019 still won’t, or don’t know. Labour seems to be doing well in this group – 20% of 2019 non-voters would now vote Labour, compared to just 6% who would vote Tory.

Speaking of switchers, 17% of 2019 Tory voters saying they’ll now vote Labour is significant: they’ve very unlikely to go back – this chimes with the idea that many ‘lent’ the Tories their vote in 2019. But more worryingly is that only 50% of 2019 Tory voters say they’ll definitely vote Tory – compare that to Labour where 88% of their 2019 is still on side.

This suggests that the core vote is shored up now – if the parties are sensible their policies should be looking to win over those who have yet to make up their minds.



If you would like to find out more about the key trends and outcomes of the recent local elections or further discuss the year ahead, contact us here.

Taking difficult decisions may lead to difficult conversations – our top 5 Autumn Statement takeaways

Taking difficult decisions may lead to difficult conversations – our top 5 Autumn Statement takeaways

The Autumn Statement was a chance for the new Prime Minister and Chancellor to fully detach themselves from the short-lived economic policy and plans of their even more short-lived predecessors – and they didn’t fail in that endeavour. Just a few short weeks ago, the Conservative leadership was championing themselves as a low-tax, high growth government, with significant tax cuts and the promise of major supply-side reforms. Instead, Jeremy Hunt set out an economic plan that is based around the highest tax burden since 1945, hitting 37.1% of GDP in 2027-28. The response from the Government benches was surprisingly muted, with few cheers during the hour-long speech.

The Chancellor insists that “taking difficult decisions now” will deliver stability in the long term, whilst also being “compassionate” to the most vulnerable in society. But these difficult decisions might lead to some difficult conversations to get the backbenches on board. Here are our top five takeaways from yesterday’s Autumn Statement:

  1. The party of low-tax no longer

This Statement was a stark contrast to the plan set out by Kwasi Kwarteng in September, with tax cuts replaced by rises and freezes. The most eye-catching was the decision to lower the threshold for paying the additional 45% rate of income tax – one that was going to be scrapped altogether until Hunt became Chancellor – from £150,000 per year to £125,140, which was designed to demonstrate that those with the broadest shoulders take on more of the burden for filling the budget black hole.

But for lower earners – those who will be struggling to make ends meet anyway – there is little joy on tax. Having had the basic rate reduction snatched away from them before it even started, the bad news for low-earners is that the six-year freeze on income tax will drag 3.2million into paying basic rate and 2.6million into paying higher rate. And to add insult to injury, the real terms value of the personal allowance will only be worth what it was in 2013-14. The squeeze will only get tighter.

There will inevitably be some backlash on the Tory benches about the tax changes – see below for more on that – which has already been seen on fuel duty. Following the Statement the Chancellor has had to calm concerns that fuel duty will rise next year for the first time since 2011, as predicted by the OBR. Expect the long-term lobbying from backbench Tory MPs to continue on that in the run up to the Spring Budget.

  1. The drive to net zero is still there, but don’t expect special treatment

To encourage a transition to greener and lower carbon energy and vehicles, there have been exemptions from certain taxes – such as Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) and exemptions from the windfall taxes. No longer. From 2025 electric vehicles will no longer be exempt from VED, removing one of the main incentives to switch to an EV. Clearly this exemption had to be temporary but at a time where people are having to make difficult decisions with their finances, and the higher prices of EVs anyway, this could inadvertently slow down their uptake.

Windfall taxes have been a bone of contention for the Conservatives, but clearly they can generate significant income for the Treasury. The existing oil and gas windfall tax will increase to 35% until 2028, but significantly a new 45% windfall tax will be put on the low carbon electricity generation sector. Once again this represents an odd move from the Government – encouraging a low carbon energy transition relies on incentives to grow and the fact that the low carbon generation windfall tax is higher than the one for fossil fuels seems counterintuitive.

  1. The energy crisis isn’t going anywhere

Arguably the biggest challenge facing the Government and wider economy is the energy bills crisis. For all the troubles of the Truss Government, the Energy Price Guarantee was a positive legacy but one that is wildly expensive and can’t continue forever at this rate of spending. The Guarantee will continue, but at a lower rate of support – with the typical annual bills now set to be £3,000 per year rather than £2,500. Taken alongside the freeze on tax bands and the personal allowance and the rising inflation on food, household budgets will be tighter than ever.

Targeted support for business energy bills will be offered after the current package expires in March 2023, while additional support such as business rate reliefs will also be extended to support businesses with their rising bills. Clearly the Government expects, with the economy in recession, that it will have to go all out to protect businesses and jobs over the coming years.

  1. Social care remains a challenge for tomorrow

Since it emerged that 40% of government day-to-day spending goes on the health service, the UK has often been described as “a health service with a country attached to it”. Of course, Covid has significantly increased the pressure but with every annual increase in funding for the health service comes concerns that something needs to be done to avoid it becoming a bottomless pit.

Adult social care reform has been ‘a priority’ for every Government since records began but one gets the impression that it’s an issue no one really wants to tackle. After Boris Johnson promised to finally solve the challenge, it has once again been kicked into the long-grass and while there will be significantly more funding for adult social care – the biggest increase ever – the changes to funding have been delayed again. Like many of the difficult decisions, one wonders if the Government are simply hoping that it’ll be Labour’s problem in a couple of years rather than having to sort it themselves.

  1. Infrastructure remains central to levelling-up

Infrastructure spending is often the first thing to be cut when savings are needed, but clearly there is an understanding that without it you cannot achieve levelling up and economic growth. So, the much-delayed and controversial HS2 will continue to be delivered, alongside Northern Powerhouse Rail and East to West Rail – all of which are central elements of the growth agenda in the Midlands and North of England.

Expect there to be some backlash on this: Esther McVey, previously Jeremy Hunt’s ‘running mate’ as part of his leadership bid in the summer, said at PMQs on Wednesday that “If the Government has got enough money to proceed with HS2 at any cost then it has sufficient money not to raise taxes. If it has so little money it has to increase taxes then it doesn’t have sufficient money for HS2” and that she wouldn’t support both. Persuading those tax-sceptic, HS2 hating Tory backbenchers to support both proposals will be a big challenge for the Whips office in the next few weeks.

Want to know more about how the Autumn Statement might impact your business? Contact David Button

Looking ahead to CIH Housing 2022

Looking ahead to CIH Housing 2022


In a few days’ time the great and good of the housing sector will be heading to Manchester to celebrate its achievements and discuss the significant changes and challenges that will face the sector in the next 12 months.

We’re excited to be seeing friends and colleagues from across the UK’s housing sector again, and hearing from sector experts at the many events taking place (including at our two brilliant events – details below).

Housing is never far from the national agenda, and it’s fair to say that the last few weeks have been pretty eventful for the sector – from the passing of the Building Safety Act, to planning reform and plans for the new Infrastructure Levy, the Social Housing Regulation Bill, and the re-announcement of the extension of the Right to Buy.

These points will no doubt be hot topics for the conference, and we look forward to discussing the opportunities and challenges in implementing them. It’s going to be a busy couple of years for the sector, with significant political focus on how the sector reacts to the new requirements.

The agenda also includes a significant number of events on net zero, including our own on the opportunities for housing associations that will come through the retrofit agenda. We hope to see many of you there, as well as at our other events. We’re at stand G46 – come say hello!

Find out more about our activities at the conference below.


Join our panel discussions

How can housing associations harness the opportunities created through the retrofitting agenda to rebuild trust in building, and managing quality, safe and efficient homes fit for the future?

Insight Stage, Tuesday 28 June, 12:30-13:15 

Join Doug Bacon, Director of Asset Management at Thirteen Group, Jessica Levey, Director of Communications at the Federation of Master Builders, Tom Jarman, Network Development Lead for Social Housing and Local Government at The Retrofit Academy and Karin Stockerl, Director of Asset Strategy & Services at Optivo as they examine the current retrofit landscape, identifying how housing associations can overcome barriers and enhance the value of retrofitting. 

Harnessing the power of social: How can housing associations embrace social media to create real change?

Insight Stage, Thursday 30 June, 10:30 -11:15 

Join SoCrowd’s CEO James Leavesley, Beth O’Malley, Digital Manager at CIH and Tanya Moravec, Digital Communications Officer at Hyde Housing as they discuss how now is the time for housing associations to make a long term commitment to social community engagement and relationship building to create real change.

Join us for a drinks reception with Communities that Work: Annual reception at CIH Housing Conference 2022

We are thrilled to be sponsoring Communities that Work’s drinks reception on Wednesday 29 June from 6 pm to 7.30 pm at Dirty Martini on Peter Street.

    The Levelling Up White Paper – Our 5 takeaways

    The Levelling Up White Paper – Our 5 takeaways


    After many months of waiting, the Levelling Up White Paper is finally here. It’s a monster at 332 pages, and it is not until page 159 that you actually get to the ‘policy programme’. There is a lot of theory and evidence base, but is there any real depth to the detail?

    We set out our five key takeaways from the Levelling Up White Paper:

    What is levelling-up?

    The biggest criticism of Levelling Up has been the lack of clarity on what it actually means. It has largely been seen as a nebulous concept without any real understanding of what it includes. While the White Paper confirms that the Levelling Up concept is very broad, it does at least give a clearer understanding of their thinking through the 12 missions.

    It’s a wide-ranging document, including measures on housing and development, broadband and mobile internet, education, skills and training, healthy lifestyles, public transport, tackling crime and even grassroots football.

    With multiple departments involved, it’ll be interesting to see who is in overall charge on these measures – and where the buck ultimately stops. Michael Gove’s role as Minister for Intergovernmental Relations as well as being the Secretary of State for Levelling Up could mean he has more steer over the direction of multiple government departments than any politician in recent political history and while, the details are still being worked out, it confirms that he is at the heart of Government decision making.

    There are actual targets

    Notably, the Government has set out targets against which it can be judged – something that previous government strategies have been criticised for not including. Some provide enough leeway to be open to interpretation (e.g. the public’s pride in place) but others will be easy to judge against, such as education attainment and life expectancy, with deliverables that will be the focus of future election strategies.

    These targets have been well-received and are quite sensible, with some comparison to Gordon Brown’s approach to regional inequalities and Public Service Agreement targets. Helpfully too the 2030 target date falls outside the General Election cycle, giving government extra time to meet them.

    No new funding

    It is clear that there is very little new funding to back the White Paper, instead previously announced funds will be redirected or redistributed to support the missions. Most expected this, given the difficult economic times in which we live, but Michael Gove has indicated that future Spending Reviews could provide additional funding to support these measures.

    Levelling up will, instead, be achieved by ‘rewiring’ the system. Homes England will be refocussed to look at regional growth and development, a new local government body will be established to monitor how local performance and policies are being implemented, more devolution is being offered to hand responsibility for much of this to existing and new Metro Mayors, and more civil servants will be moved to the regions. The White Paper gives eight years to achieve these ambitions – these new systems will need to be in place very quickly to get the job done.

    Cross-party working

    The pandemic and the impact of it has exposed some of the issues with there being a national government run by one party and major city Mayoralties being held by another – London being the prime example. It is very hard to argue that much of the Government’s stance on ‘bailing out’ Transport for London during the pandemic was anything but political ahead of the London Mayoral elections.

    The White Paper could give significant new powers to Labour Metro Mayors – in particular Andy Burnham – as they look to offer “a ‘London-style’ devolution settlement to every part of England”, including on public transport systems. Manchester and West Midlands will be the pilots for these, but it is noticeable that the Government could soon be handing out extra powers to Mayors who are not Conservative – eight of the current ten Metro Mayors are Labour.

    The politics of this is clever. On the one hand, the Government allows more local decisions and more people driving change; on the other if one of the regions does not hit the targets set, the Government will have somewhere to pass the blame now that Metro Mayors will have deliverables to be held accountable for.

    A vision, not a plan

    As is often the case, the devil will be in the detail – this is not a comprehensive plan to level up the UK, it is a statement of intent. While some policies are set out in full, the planning reforms, which will be fundamental to achieving levelling up, will be confirmed “in due course” – we know, that there is a Planning Reform policy paper coming after the local elections.

    It is unlikely that we will see the full extent of the specific policies that will achieve these missions until the significant amount of engagement and informal consultation that is being planned has been completed. This includes setting up local panels, and “a structured process” of ministerial visits to discuss how levelling up can be achieved in different areas.

    That there is more than 100 pages setting out the scale of economic disparity, and even a look at economic growth theory that reads more like a dissertation than a government policy paper, gives the impression that the idea is to make it clear that the scale of the challenge is so vast it will take time to actually work out what to do to solve it. It remains to be seen whether this rhetoric can ever be achieved through action.

    Join our webinar:

    What does Levelling Up mean for decision-making on new development and infrastructure?

    In our upcoming webinar, expert panellists will be discussing the potential implications, and inviting questions from attendees. 

    Our panel speakers include:

    • Andy Street, Mayor of West Midlands
    • Lord Bob Kerslake, Former Head of the Civil Service
    • Jan Bessell, Board Chair of the National Infrastructure Planning Association
    • Steve Norris (Chair), Advisor to BECG