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Labour government ‘must be realistic’ about challenges facing construction – industry leaders react to landslide

Sector reacts to Keir Starmer’s 400-plus seat victory

Built environment leaders have this morning congratulated the Labour Party on its historic general election victory and urged it to act quickly on key issues across the sector.

Keir Starmer’s party has so far won 410 seats with counting ongoing, giving the party a landslide as it returns to power for the first time in 14 years.

Labour has put planning reform at the centre of its manifesto, promising to unlock housing on the green belt and in new towns and to improve delivery of major infrastructure (see box below).

Keir Starmer has put planning reform at the heart of its manifesto

Reacting to the result, Eddie Tuttle, director for policy, external affairs and research at CIOB, said he was looking forward to working with a Labour government on its manifesto commitments to build 1.5m homes, reform the planning system and deliver a Warm Homes Plan, but said that to achieve these things Labour “must be realistic about the challenges the construction industry is facing”.

He noted particularly “the shrinking skills base and the ageing construction workforce, with significant numbers of workers retiring and a lack of new entrants joining” and urged Labour to review the apprenticeship system “as a matter of priority”.

“Without a stable pipeline of competent workers, there are significant risks to the delivery and feasibility of housing and infrastructure projects and the new Government will struggle to meet its own targets along with the needs of communities up and down the country,” he said.

Justin Young, chef executive of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, said it was “vital that [Labour] bestow an urgency to translate the plethora of promises made over the last five weeks into sound and workable policy”.

He suggested that to achieve its ambitious policy aims, Labour needed to establish stability in key positions.

“Regardless of who is assigned to key positions across our sector, they must be given the time to executive their mandate; one of the reasons why we’ve seen such a lack of progress in housebuilding and construction is because we’ve had 16 housing ministers since 2010,” said Young.

Mark Robinson, group chief executive of Scape said that “fixing the UK’s delivery problem when it comes to constructing the buildings and infrastructure needed to house essential public services” would be key to Starmer’s stated goal of improving people’s lives.

“At Scape, we believe that procurement is a critical part of the solution,” he said. “Successful, futureproofed infrastructure requires effective management, both ahead of and following construction, including plans to select the most strategic partners and achieve more targeted, community-led outcomes.”

Robinson said he wanted to see the government engage and encourage partnership with the private sector in its first 100 days.

The director of operations at the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, Marie-Claude Hemming, said that it was “imperative” that the new government act swiftly to unblock delayed projects.

“A booming infrastructure sector is the backbone of any successful economy, and we are heartened that the Labour Party has recognised the UK’s civil engineering industry as a cornerstone of its vision for delivering growth for the benefit of businesses and communities across the UK,” she added.

Muyiwa Oki, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, described the Labour victory as a “monumental moment for the UK”.

He said: “Labour’s manifesto doesn’t have all the answers but it shows ambition – not least to tackle the housing crisis by boosting the delivery of high-quality homes and fixing our broken planning system.

“The time for bold, decisive action to deliver a safer, greener and more equitable built environment is now. We look forward to working together over the coming years – bringing architects’ expertise to the table to solve the complex challenges our country faces.”

Nick Gray, UK and Europe chief operating officer at Currie & Brown, said: ”The government must also commit to a properly costed infrastructure development plan and deliver against these commitments to avoid the volatility that has left earlier important initiatives, such as HS2, with unclear or ambiguous goals.”

He also urged Labour to re-visit the potential of public-private partnerships and to re-introduce the role of chief construction advisor.

“Construction is fragmented within Whitehall and spread across several different spending departments. The new government would do well to address this misalignment to improve efficiency,” said Gray.

Aecom chief executive for Europe and India, Colin Wood, said: “It is clear that planning reform will be central to the new government’s commitment to unlock the backlog in housing development and other vital infrastructure projects. A significant overhaul of the system will be key to spurring investment and economic growth.”

Greg Reed, chief executive of 195,000-home provider Places for People, said the result marks a “new dawn” which should hopefully bring longer-term stability.

Reed said: “The new government must now put words into action and deliver the transformative national change it promised during its successful campaign.

“So much leads back to a lack of vital housing and Labour’s pledge to turbocharge housebuilding and invest in healthy communities is very welcome.”

At-a-glance: the key measures for the built environment in the Labour manifesto

  • build 1.5 million new homes over the next parliament
  • re-instate mandatory housing targets, strengthen presumptions in favour of sustainable development and fund additional planning officers, paid for by increasing the rate of the stamp duty surcharge paid by non-UK residents
  • prioritise the release of supposedly lower quality “grey belt” land
  • build a new generation of new towns and to reform compulsory purchase compensation rules relating to hope value
  • new planning powers and housing grant funding flexibilities for combined authorities
  • make changes to the Affordable Homes Programme “to ensure that it delivers more homes from existing funding”
  • establish an Industrial Strategy Council
  • a £7.3bn National Wealth Fund to be tasked with supporting Labour’s growth and clean energy missions
  • develop a 10-year infrastructure strategy, to give the private sector “certainty about project pipeline”
  • improving rail connectivity across the north of England.
  • create a new National Infrastructure and Service Transformation Authority, bringing together existing bodies, to set strategic infrastructure priorities and oversee the design, scope, and delivery of projects
  • update national planning policy to make it easier to build laboratories, digital infrastructure and gigafactories
  • invest an extra £6.6bn as part of its Warm Homes Plan to upgrade five million homes
  • secure a mutual recognition agreement for professional qualifications to help open up markets for UK service exporters

Gavin Smart, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, said that he hopes to meet with the new secretary of state – widely expected to be Angela Rayner - and minister for housing “shortly” to discuss how the sector can support delivery of the manifesto commitments.

Smart said: “We look forward to working with the new government, ensuring that housing is high on the priority list.”

Kate Henderson, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said housing associations are “ready to work in partnership” with the new government.

She said: “After 14 years of cuts and policy uncertainty, we will require urgent action to shore up the sector’s finances, protect vital services, ramp up delivery of new homes and deliver for residents. We want to establish a collaborative relationship with our new government and work together to secure the future of social housing as part of a long term plan for housing.”

Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation Master Builders said the election “offers a fresh start to get Britain building” and described Labour’s pledge to build 1.5 million homes and upgrade 5 million over five years as “ambitious”.

He said: “The success of Labour’s housing targets will very much depend on two key issues being addressed. First, the need to reform the planning system to make it easier and quicker to build. Secondly, the urgent need to tackle the skills crisis ensuring we have enough skilled workers in the construction industry to build the homes needed.”