UKREiiF 2024: Alastair Campbell suggests Labour will face 'Nimby' opposition to New Towns plan

Labour is likely to face substantial local opposition to its plans for a series of ‘New Towns’ to help tackle the nation’s housing shortages, Alastair Campbell has suggested.

The party’s former communications director under Tony Blair made the comments as he attended a major real estate conference in Leeds on Wednesday – the same event where the party’s deputy leader and shadow housing secretary Angela Rayner had announced the policy the day before.

Ms Rayner had told UKREiiF (The UK’s Real Estate Investment & Infrastructure Forum) that the party would announce locations for a wave of new towns within its first year of government with an aim of having each development being made up of 40 per cent affordable housing and including guaranteed public services such as schools and doctors’ surgeries.

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It has been reported that the new towns may include locations near Nottingham, Stafford and Northampton.

Alastair Campbell speaking at a Rest is Politics event at UKREiiF in LeedsAlastair Campbell speaking at a Rest is Politics event at UKREiiF in Leeds
Alastair Campbell speaking at a Rest is Politics event at UKREiiF in Leeds

The idea was a major topic at a session at UKREiiF hosted by Mr Campbell and his Rest is Politics podcast co-host Rory Stewart, with their guests including former Leeds Council leader Baroness Judith Blake, who is now Labour’s shadow spokesperson for business and trade in the House of Lords.

Mr Campbell asked Baroness Blake what Labour expected the reaction to the New Towns concept to be from existing communities living near the planned settlements.

"The truth is we are a bit of a Nimby country,” he said.

"Anywhere in the country where if a new Government comes in and says ‘Right we are going to build a new town here, here and here’… ultimately most people in most areas will say we would rather you went somewhere else. How do you deal with that politically?”

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The Rest is Politics event at UKREiiF in Leeds was attended by a sellout audienceThe Rest is Politics event at UKREiiF in Leeds was attended by a sellout audience
The Rest is Politics event at UKREiiF in Leeds was attended by a sellout audience

Baroness Blake said: “It is an enormous challenge but I wouldn’t be as negative as that.”

She said there are areas of the country that would welcome the prospect of new housing.

Pat Ritchie, chair of the Government Property Agency and former chief executive of Newcastle City Council, said she believes it will be possible to get people behind New Towns as a way of providing housing for younger family members.

"If you ask people, how are you kids doing with getting on the housing market? They say, ‘Well rents are terrible’,” she said.

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“We have to change the narrative a bit and think about a big campaign about this being for the future generations.”

Later in the session, in response to an audience member asking whether the focus should be expanding existing towns rather than building new ones with entirely new infrastructure, Baroness Blake said Labour was not proposing an “either/or” approach.

But she said new towns offer the chance of a “blank sheet of paper” to build the right infrastructure.

Earlier in the session, Tom Goodall, managing director of property developer Related Argent, said the country is now facing a “housing emergency” with increasing construction costs and higher interest rates contributing to housebuilding levels falling.

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He said while the Government has previously set a target of building 300,000 new homes a year, recent figures suggest there could be less than 100,000 a year being constructed by 2026.

Mr Stewart said: “The Labour Government will inherit a crashed system.”

Labour ‘further ahead’ on New Towns idea

Baroness Judith Blake has indicated Labour may be further down the line with the planning for New Towns and their potential locations than they are currently ​saying publicly.

After the sell-out audience for the event was asked for a show of hands as to whether Labour could deliver New Towns within a single term of office, Baroness Blake firstly said she was cautious about whether her party will actually win power in the first place.

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On the point about new towns, she said of Angela Rayner’s announcement: “I think they are further ahead than probably she gave credence to yesterday.”

Ms Rayner said on Tuesday Labour’s “next generation of New Towns” would be “homes fit for the future” inspired by garden suburbs like Hale in Manchester, Roundhay in Leeds and the Garden City project.

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