Skip to main content
Close Menu Open Menu

The manifestos: what do they mean for planning?

Our election commentary continues with a more detailed assessment of the political parties’ manifestos from the RTPI’s England Policy Manager, Dr Daniel Slade, and Infrastructure and Climate Change Specialist, Dr Ada Lee.

Over the past week, parties’ manifestos dropped one by one. ‘Net zero’, ‘public health’, ‘growth’ are some of the key words that we keep hearing. As planners, we know the profession has an important role to play in delivering these priorities. But how would the political parties’ promises set the stage for planners?

After flipping through 405 pages of manifestos we are starting to get a sense of what these documents may mean for our planning system and how the political parties have responded to the Planifesto published by the RTPI last September.

Properly resourcing planning

Public investment is crucial to unleashing the full potential of planning. Labour has promised to provide funding for 300 additional planning officers through increasing the rate of stamp duty surcharge paid by non-UK residents. Our State of the Profession report shows that a quarter of planners have left the public sector since 2013. Hence, to ensure long-term stable support for local planning authorities, increasing the number of planning officers will need to continue in the years to come.

Liberal Democrats have also directly acknowledged that proper funding is essential to improving planning outcomes. Their key proposal is for councils to have the freedom to set planning fees to reflect costs – something that the RTPI has repeatedly called for.

The Conservatives’ priorities lie in ‘streamlining’ and ‘speeding up’ planning, while delivering stronger communities. Proper resourcing is indispensable to a robust and efficient planning system. In this light, we’d question if these promises will bear fruit.

Taking a spatial approach

A spatial approach is essential to improving coordination between different policies and scales of planning. Specifically on infrastructure, the RTPI has consistently asked for more up-to-date and more spatial national planning policy. To this end, we are pleased to see that both Labour and the Conservatives have committed to updating national planning policy. It would be crucial that the next government takes these updates as an opportunity to include spatial plans in these policy statements.

More broadly, there are signs that both the Conservatives and Labour are taking a more spatial approach towards planning. This can be seen in Labour’s plan to reveal new town sites within a first year in power and to set up the publicly-owned Great British Energy in Scotland. The Conservatives have pledged to support new urban quarters in Leeds, Liverpool and York and to realise the Cambridge 2050 plan. In the long run, strategic spatial plans that seek to coordinate actions and policies will be crucial to delivering key objectives from housing to energy and transport.

Strategic Planning and coherent urban growth

Planning at a larger-than-local scale is key to achieving national priorities such as housing and growth and is a constant running thread through many of our Planifesto’s proposals. This is supported by our current and past research on strategic planning. Hence, we are glad that the need for cross-boundary strategic planning in the delivery of housing is acknowledged in both Labour’s and Plaid Cymru’s manifestos.

The importance of urban growth to be coherent - rather than piecemeal - is recognised by both Labour and Plaid Cym­ru. Labour has promised to take a strategic approach towards greenbelt land release and the plan to build a new generation of new towns, while Plaid Cymru suggested future housing development be aligned with other community needs, such as healthcare, education and transport.

Strong local leadership will be essential to delivering these promises. We are pleased to see the general consensus among political parties on strengthening local powers. Labour has promised new planning powers for Combined Authorities. It is also planning to both deepen devolution settlements for existing Combined Authorities in England and widen the deal to more areas.

The Conservatives have also promised new powers to communities. It would be important that planning forms part of these powers.

In the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto, devolution is mentioned in the context of transport planning, where local authorities will have greater powers and resources in making decisions on public transport infrastructure around community needs.

Local plans and community empowerment

It is encouraging to see that both Labour and Liberal Democrats show faith in the local level of planning. Labour has pledged to ensure Local Plans are up-to-date, while the Liberal Democrats have promised to properly fund local planning departments to improve planning outcomes.

Keeping Local Plans up-to-date will depend on resourcing and the ongoing reforms introduced alongside the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act. The RTPI will continue to explore what impact politicians' announcements may mean for strengthening the local level of planning.

Planning for Net Zero

Onshore wind, community energy and retrofitting are some of the topics that political parties have addressed in their manifestoes.

On onshore wind, the RTPI has consistently called for the removal of constraints around onshore wind – particularly Footnote 58 of the NPPF (previously Footnote 54). While Liberal Democrats have promised to “remove restrictions” on new wind power and Labour to “double onshore wind”,  there is no commitment as yet from the Conservatives to go further than their amendment of the footnote last year.

In our Planifesto, we encouraged political parties to consider supporting consent for community-owned infrastructure development. We are happy to see that community ownership has broad support in Labour’s and Plaid Cymru’s manifestoes. The Liberal Democrats are seeking to empower local authorities to develop local strategies for renewable electricity generation and storage. We see this as a positive move just a step short of community ownership.

Both Labour and the Conservatives recognise the importance of community support for renewable energy projects. The Conservatives in particular suggested the use of bill discounts to make sure communities hosting this infrastructure will directly benefit from it. Bill discounts are however in general an inappropriate form of community benefit as they depart from the central planning principle that developers’ contributions should be used to provide public goods. Instead, local infrastructure improvement or shared ownership of energy infrastructure will generate more positive community outcomes.

Our Planifesto has also suggested that the next Government should integrate retrofit funding, incentives and strategies into planning services. Liberal Democrats, Labour and Plaid Cymru have all committed to a large-scale retrofit programme. We look forward to working with different stakeholders in integrating these initiatives with planning as the profession has a crucial role to play in regeneration and granting permission for some of the required works.


It is encouraging to see so many the RTPI’s Planifesto asks are echoed in the parties’ manifestos, and that planning is generally seen as a positive force. Properly resourcing our planning system will be key to delivering many of the political parties’ objectives – from public health, to nature, energy and transport. We are pleased that most political parties recognise this.

In the weeks leading up to the General Election, the RTPI will continue to keep a close eye on the latest developments and beyond July 4th, we will continue to work as the collective voice of the profession and support the next Government to realise the full potential of planning.


Back to top