Exclusive:Eight Labour frontbenchers have opposed building on green belt as Keir Starmer plans to make it easier

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NationalWorld has analysed comments by all 174 Labour MPs in England - and found more than a fifth have opposed green belt building

Eight members of Labour’s frontbench - and more than a fifth of the party’s MPs in England - have spoken out against building on the green belt, analysis by NationalWorld has found.

On Wednesday (May 17), the party’s leader Sir Keir Starmer announced that if he won the next election, local areas would be given more powers to decide where houses were built - “including on the green belt in some circumstances”.

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What did Starmer say about the green belt?

In a speech to the British Chambers of Commerce, Starmer said there were cases where more green belt development could be allowed by local councils in England in an effort to “back the builders, not the blockers”.

He gave the example of a car park in the green belt and a playing field which wasn’t, with the field chosen for development instead. “We’ve got to take better decisions than that”, he added.

Under the proposals, local authorities would get more powers to “direct where houses are built” although Starmer insisted he wanted to protect the green belt overall, saying he valued the countryside.

What did we find?

To try to establish whether Starmer faces potential opposition to his shadow Cabinet and his backbenchers, we looked at public statements made by all 174 Labour MPs in England - either in Parliament, on their own websites or to the media.

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I believe it is wrong to consider green belt land for development

Lisa Nandy

Thirty-seven of them had spoken out against green belt building; eight of these MPs are on the Labour frontbench.

Shadow Housing Secretary Lisa Nandy has previously been unambiguous on the issue. Slamming plans for a housing development which would encroach on the green belt in her constituency, the Wigan MP said: “I believe it is wrong to consider green belt land for development.”

“Green belt land is there to prevent urban sprawl and provide space for recreation. These areas are well used public spaces and there is a strong feeling in Wigan that the green belt should be protected and not infringed upon for housing or employment development."

Shadow levelling up secretary Lisa NandyShadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy
Shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy | Hollie Adams/Getty Images

Pat McFadden, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has voiced similar opposition to green belt developments.

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Responding to plans to build on Wolverhampton’s Seven Fields, he wrote on Facebook: “As the local MP, I want to make it clear that I am opposed to these proposals and want to see this beautiful and much-loved area preserved as part of the green belt.”

He also pointed to other ways to fulfil housing targets, remarking: “As a result of our industrial history, there are many brownfield sites available in Wolverhampton. Many of these could and should be used for housing.”

“The city should not be forced to choose between the housing we need and the green spaces we love.”

Other members of Labour’s frontbench who have opposed building on the green belt in the past include Peter Kyle, who voiced his support for a group campaigning against a development in Brighton and Hove, and John Healey, who ruled out relaxing restrictions on green belt development when he was shadow housing secretary under former leader Jeremy Corbyn.

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Meanwhile, Wes Streeting, Shadow Health Secretary, publicly spoke out against plans to build on Oakfield playing fields in Redbridge, east London, but has since made conflicting remarks - writing on Twitter: “A green belt review would help places like Sinclair House achieve their ambition of a new campus for the community on land that can’t reasonably be described as green belt.”

I oppose development on any green belt in my constituency

Derek Twigg

Elsewhere, frontbencher Ruth Cadbury has addressed Parliament about the “importance of the green belt and the need to protect it”, and MPs Zarah Sultana and Valerie Vaz have both questioned ministers about the steps being taken to protect greenfield spaces in their constituencies.

Labour’s Derek Twigg has been particularly strong - writing in response to building proposals in Halton, Cheshire: “I oppose development on any green belt in my constituency.”

And John McDonnell has responded directly to Starmer’s new plans, writing on Twitter in reaction to newspaper headlines about the proposals: “The Green Belt was championed by the London County Council under Herbert Morrison in 1930s, legislated for by the Attlee Labour Government in 1940s, and has been the fundamental basis of a battle to protect the environment in working class urban constituencies like mine over decades.”

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What has the government said?

After Starmer made his pledge, housing secretary Michael Gove wrote to the Labour leader - describing his policy as “confused” and pointing out that his shadow Cabinet colleagues “regularly oppose developments”.

Speaking to journalists in Japan - where he’s attending the G7 summit - Rishi Sunak ruled out building on the green belt, saying he wanted to make sure “green spaces are protected”.

Last year, the Prime Minister abandoned plans for mandatory local housing targets as part of efforts to build 300,000 homes a year - because of opposition from Conservative MPs and activists worried about the impact on their constituencies.

Starmer told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme he accepted it would be a challenge to convince everyone about his plans “because in every area, local representatives are going to say ‘not here’ but faced with that challenge, the Prime Minister backed off”.

Labour has been approached for comment.

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