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Potential locations for Labour’s new towns

If elected, Labour says it will create a wave of new towns. Here, pinpoint where we think they might be plotted and why

27 June 2024
6 minutes read
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Labour’s ambitious planning reforms aim to tackle the UK's housing crisis head-on and if elected, the Party pledges to build a series of new towns that could change the game when it comes to the provision of much-needed housing supply.

In this article, I will firstly explain exactly what these new towns are, before sharing the potential locations that Labour might choose for these new housing developments.

Let’s begin.

What are new towns?

New towns, as explained in Labour's manifesto, are planned communities specifically designed to accommodate substantial new housing developments. These new towns will feature at least 40% affordable housing, including social and council homes, to ensure inclusivity and accessibility. 

These new towns are central to Labour’s efforts to lift housebuilding figures in the long term. By focusing on sustainable development and community-oriented town planning and urban design, Labour seeks to blend these new towns seamlessly with existing urban infrastructure, ensuring that the new settlements are not just functional, but also vibrant and desirable places to live.

Where will Labour build new towns across the UK?

As a part of Labour’s planning reforms, most of the new towns will be built on low-quality Green Belt land, which Labour refers to as the "grey belt". This strategic choice aims to minimise the impact on high-value Green Belt land while effectively addressing the urgent housing needs.

Although there is no definitive plan yet on which parts of the Green Belt will be designated for development, the focus is on areas that can support integrated and sustainable growth while aligning with Labour's ambitious housing targets.

With this in mind, I have pinpointed 20 high-potential locations that stand out due to their strategic economic potential, existing infrastructure, and capacity to develop into thriving communities.

Here are the locations most likely to be chosen for Labour's new towns, each offering unique advantages that align with the vision of creating resilient settlements for future generations.

1. Cambridge area

Cambridge is a prime candidate for Labour’s new towns due to its booming tech and research sectors, anchored, of course, by the prestigious Cambridge University. The Greater Cambridge Partnership aims to accelerate housing delivery with plans for up to 150,000 new homes by 2050. This area is strategically positioned with excellent transport links, including direct rail connections to London, making it an ideal site for sustainable, mixed-use developments. The city’s blend of historical charm and modern infrastructure, coupled with a thriving economic base, makes it a compelling choice for new urban growth.

2. M1 Corridor around Milton Keynes

The M1 corridor near Milton Keynes is poised to be a cornerstone of Labour’s housebuilding plans due to its strategic location and transport links. Milton Keynes has a successful history as a planned town and is well-positioned for further expansion. The area's connectivity to both London and the Midlands supports regional economic development, making it a key area for high-density residential developments. The corridor's infrastructure, including parks, schools, and healthcare facilities, promotes a promising opportunity for new communities.

3. Thames Estuary (Ebbsfleet and surrounding areas)

The Thames Estuary, particularly Ebbsfleet, stands out as a strategic location for Labour’s new towns due to its proximity to London and key transport routes like HS1. Proposals for expanding Ebbsfleet include transforming it into a major residential and commercial hub, aligning with Labour’s vision for addressing housing shortages and boosting regional economic activity. This development supports London’s overflow while stimulating growth in North Kent. Additionally, the potential for waterfront development adds unique aesthetic and recreational appeal, making Ebbsfleet a prime example of Labour's commitment to integrated, sustainable communities​

4. South Hampshire

South Hampshire, with its coastal allure and urban centres, presents an attractive option for Labour’s new towns. The region is poised for quality of life improvements and economic growth, driven by maritime industries and strong transport networks. The presence of significant green spaces and coastal areas in South Hampshire also presents a unique opportunity for environmentally sustainable and health-promoting urban design solutions. By leveraging these natural assets, planners can incorporate extensive green infrastructure and public spaces that not only enhance biodiversity but also promote physical and mental wellbeing among residents.

5. Midlands

The Midlands, particularly around Birmingham, Leicester, and Nottingham, offers extensive opportunities for new town developments. This central region can foster interconnected hubs that boost regional economies and provide much-needed affordable housing. Its strategic location, combined with existing infrastructure, positions it as a frontrunner for Labour's ambitious housebuilding initiatives. By enhancing public transport networks and integrating green infrastructure, new towns in this area can be developed to be both sustainable and well-connected, promoting environmental sustainability and improved quality of life for residents. This approach will ensure that the Midlands can support resilient, thriving communities that are well-equipped to meet future challenges.

6. Hale (Manchester)

Hale, near Manchester, is ideally positioned to support Labour’s new town initiatives by expanding its urban infrastructure and creating new residential areas. The strategic integration of green spaces and sustainable urban design principles will position Hale as a benchmark for future developments. Its proximity to Manchester means it is well connected, making it an attractive location for families and professionals alike. Furthermore, Hale's excellent schools and vibrant community amenities significantly enhance its appeal, offering a desirable living environment that supports both economic growth and environmental sustainability. This combination of factors makes Hale an exemplary candidate for Labour’s vision of sustainable and integrated urban communities.

7. Roundhay (Leeds)

Roundhay, near Leeds, has significant potential for residential expansion by leveraging its existing urban amenities and robust infrastructure. This area is well-suited to adopt sustainable design principles, setting a benchmark for future urban development. The extensive green spaces, including the renowned Roundhay Park, greatly enhance livability and align with Labour’s vision for integrated, environmentally friendly communities.

8. Oxford

Oxford, with its rich educational and research environment, is an ideal candidate for developing high-tech residential and commercial hubs. The city's prestigious academic institutions, such as the University of Oxford, serve as catalysts for innovation and economic growth, positioning it as a prime location for sustainable, knowledge-based communities. Oxford’s unique blend of historic charm and modern infrastructure creates an appealing environment for new town development. By integrating cutting-edge technologies and sustainable design principles, Oxford can offer a vibrant, forward-thinking community that attracts researchers, professionals, and families alike, embodying Labour's vision for progressive new towns.

9. Norwich

Norwich, a regional economic hub with decent transport links, is an excellent candidate for new residential and commercial developments. The city’s strong infrastructure and economic base support sustainable growth, focusing on creating vibrant mixed-use communities that seamlessly integrate residential, commercial, and recreational spaces. Norwich’s vibrant cultural scene, highlighted by numerous festivals, galleries, and theatres, along with its historic architecture, significantly enhances its appeal to new settlements. By leveraging these assets, Norwich can become a model for balanced urban development that promotes economic vitality and a great lifestyle, aligning perfectly with Labour's vision for integrated and sustainable urban communities.

10. Reading

Reading, with its excellent transport connections and vibrant economic activity, is ideally positioned for Labour’s new town initiatives. Its proximity to London, coupled with a thriving local economy, makes it a strategic choice for expanding housing and commercial spaces. The presence of large business parks and prestigious educational institutions, such as the University of Reading, enhances its attractiveness for professionals and families. Again, this aligns with Labour’s vision for creating vibrant, interconnected communities that offer both economic opportunities and a high quality of life. Reading's infrastructure and community amenities further support the development of sustainable, mixed-use communities that integrate residential, commercial, and recreational spaces, making it an exemplary location for Labour’s ambitious housing plans.

11. Stratford-upon-Avon

Stratford-upon-Avon offers unique opportunities for residential and commercial development, thanks to its rich cultural heritage and strategic location. The town's historical significance as the birthplace of Shakespeare, combined with modern amenities, creates a compelling environment for new developments. Enhancing public transport links and expanding green spaces will ensure that Stratford-upon-Avon remains a vibrant and dynamic town. These improvements will not only preserve its historical charm but also cater to the needs of a growing population.

12. Taunton

Taunton, with its strategic position and established transport infrastructure, is an ideal candidate for new communities under Labour's new towns initiative. The area supports sustainable residential and commercial growth, effectively meeting regional housing demands. Significant investments are planned, including a £20 million development project at Taunton School, which aims to enhance educational facilities and create a sustainable, pedestrian-friendly campus​. Taunton’s excellent schools, comprehensive healthcare facilities, and abundant recreational areas make it a highly desirable location for families and individuals. The town’s balance of urban amenities and rural charm provides a great lifestyle for residents, neatly aligning with Labour’s vision for developing vibrant, sustainable communities that cater to diverse population needs while promoting economic stability and environmental sustainability.

13. Exeter

Exeter’s strong regional economy and transport connections make it a prime candidate for the development of new towns, particularly given the city’s existing infrastructure which can support sustainable and integrated growth. Exeter offers a balanced lifestyle with its vibrant city centre and surrounding countryside, making it an attractive location for new residents seeking a well-rounded lifestyle. The combination of a thriving local economy and excellent public services, including the University of Exeter, positions the city as a key site for Labour’s new town plans.

14. Harrogate

Harrogate, known for its livability and amenities, is well-suited for residential expansion. Its strategic location and existing infrastructure make it an appealing site for new developments. The town’s spa heritage and extensive green spaces provide a unique and attractive environment for Labour’s new town projects, ensuring a vibrant and dynamic community. Enhancing public transport and integrating sustainable design principles will support Harrogate’s growth as a model for balanced urban development.

15. Preston

Preston offers extensive development opportunities, particularly given its strong transport links and regional economic activity. The city’s educational institutions and healthcare facilities make it suitable for sustainable community development. New residential and commercial projects in Preston will contribute to regional growth, and help create vibrant, well-connected communities.

16. Carlisle

Carlisle, with its strategic location and great transport infrastructure, is ideal for new town development. Major regeneration projects, including the £20 million redevelopment of Carlisle Railway Station under the Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal, aim to enhance connectivity and spur economic growth in the region. These efforts perfectly align with Labour’s housebuilding plans, ensuring that new developments are well-integrated with existing infrastructure. The city's blend of historical significance and modern amenities makes it an attractive site for creating vibrant, sustainable communities that meet Labour's objectives of providing high-quality, affordable housing in well-connected areas.

17. Guildford

Guildford has a strong economic base and good transport connections, which makes it well-positioned for new town development. The town’s cultural amenities, including theatres and galleries, enhance its attractiveness for new developments. Guildford offers opportunities for integrated residential and commercial growth, supporting Labour’s goals for high-quality, sustainable communities. The town’s mix of historical charm and modern facilities makes it an ideal location for vibrant, well-planned urban growth.

18. Peterborough

Peterborough's strategic location, with excellent transport links and a growing economy, makes it a prime location for establishing new towns. The city's infrastructure supports substantial residential and commercial expansion, plus, Peterborough’s mix of historic charm and modern conveniences provides a compelling environment for new residents, meeting Labour’s plans for vibrant, well-connected communities. Investing in public transport and green infrastructure will support sustainable development in the area.

19. Swindon

Swindon, with established transport connections and economic activity, is well-suited for housebuilding. The area can leverage its strategic position to support integrated and sustainable growth, meeting housing demands and boosting the local economy. Significant business parks and cultural amenities enhance Swindon's attractiveness as a new town location, ensuring a vibrant and livable community. Developing high-density housing and improving public transport will support Labour’s vision for sustainable urban development.

20. Chelmsford

Chelmsford, with its proximity to London and strong transport links, offers significant potential for new settlements. The city's existing amenities and infrastructure make it an attractive site for sustainable residential and commercial projects. Chelmsford combines urban convenience with nearby countryside, providing a balanced and appealing environment for new communities. Enhancing public transport and integrating green spaces will ensure that Chelmsford supports vibrant, sustainable growth.

Bottom line

It’s important to note that I have not used a specific analytical framework to identify these locations. Instead, I’ve drawn on my extensive experience in Green Belt developments and masterplanning. I’ve also meticulously read thousands of pages of reports solely focused on Labour’s housebuilding plans and their new towns initiative, which has helped me further refine my selections.

Of course, this is not investment advice. There is a possibility that all of these locations could be chosen, but there is also the possibility that none of them will be selected. 

Like all property development investments, especially complex ones involving Green Belt land, going into your project without property development due diligence is a recipe for disaster. From my experience working on countless projects of varying scopes and scales over the years, it is clear that those who are meticulous in their process during the early phases of development are the ones who come out on top in the end.

How Urbanist Architecture can help

Urbanist Architecture is a multidisciplinary architecture and planning firm based in London, with projects spanning across the UK. As an RIBA chartered practice with experienced architects, planning consultants, interior designers, and project managers, we offer multiple architecture services under one roof at a boutique scale to achieve your goals.

Whether you're starting your first property and land development project or are seeking a partner to expand your existing portfolio, we are here to help. With a strong multidisciplinary team that has an established reputation for excellence in residential architecture, we can provide you with all of the solutions you need through every step of your project.

Out now: Green Light to Green Belt Developments

The Green Belt is one of the most contentious and misunderstood pieces of planning policy in England and it’s a topic we at Urbanist Architecture have a lot of experience working with. For this reason, we decided to pool our learnings and pen a book delving deep into the Green Belt from every possible angle.

‘Green Light to Green Belt Developments’ investigates the policy's biggest winners and losers, and explores its connections to climate change and the housing crisis, as well as what the future might hold, particularly now a new Labour government is in power. It also looks at the history of the policy and how it’s managed to endure while other policies have evolved and adapted with the times. Of course, it also identifies the exceptions and circumstances that exist for permitting development in the Green Belt, so you can better your chances of gaining planning permission.

We’ve written this book for anyone seeking a more rounded understanding of one of England's most debated urban planning issues, making it accessible to both industry professionals and the general public.

Whether you are a landowner in the Green Belt wishing to understand the potential for land value uplift or a developer planning to build new homes in the Green Belt, this book is an essential read. Order your copy now.

Ufuk Bahar, Founder and Managing Director of Urbanist Architecture

Ufuk Bahar

Urbanist Architecture’s founder and managing director, Ufuk Bahar takes personal charge of some of our larger projects, focusing particularly on Green Belt developments, new-build flats and housing and high-end full refurbishments.

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