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Rural views on the Labour Manifesto

Posted on 21 June 2024

The word 'rural' does not appear once in the Labour manifesto – versus the 25 references in the Conservatives' document. However, the Labour manifesto does include a huge amount that will impact rural landowners. Like the others, it promises new homes and planning reform but, unlike the others, it also pledges sweeping employment and fundamental property law reforms. To make this more digestible, we discuss the four main areas of change.


Labour is maintaining the abolition of non-dom status and intends to increase the non-resident SDLT surcharge by 1%. Private equity carry will be taxed as income, not capital, which may push many houses offshore. However, it has pledged to not increase National Insurance, the basic, higher, or additional rates of Income Tax, or VAT, and to cap Corporation Tax at 25%. The VAT exemption for private schools will go. The manifesto does not address inheritance tax or reliefs – so watch this space. We discuss Labour's tax proposals here.

Diversified business

Country sports are in the crosshairs. The manifesto pledges full cost recovery for firearms licensing, which is not a new proposal, but gives a sense of the direction of travel. Labour intends to ban trail hunting – a move that will alienate many rural communities and one that raises questions over the future of other country sports under a Labour Government, such as driven shooting. Snare traps and puppy farming will also be banned.  

The real change is in relation to employment, where rural employers could be hit hard by a refocus on employees' rights. Minimum wage will rise, with no age bands. Labour intends to tighten The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE) and extend parental leave and protection against unfair dismissal to those in their first two years of employment. They intend to make it "unlawful to dismiss a woman who is pregnant for six months after her return from maternity leave, except in specific circumstances". These specific circumstances are not yet defined. Enforcement of workers' rights will change with a single enforcement body and bolstered tribunals. Health and safety and blacklisting protections will be extended to self-employed workers. Unpaid internships are to be banned, except when they are part of an education or training course. We discuss Labour's employment proposals in more detail here.

Those with diversified estates hosting festivals and other large public events already need to consider security, but the requirement will increase substantially with the promised introduction of 'Martyn's Law', which will require landowners to address the threat from terrorism and train staff - regardless of whether the event is in rural Cornwall or central Manchester.

The creation of Great British Energy hit the headlines, with the intention it will partner with industry to deliver clean power; a promise complemented by investments in solar and nuclear energy, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen and marine energy, alongside a ban on fracking. 

Also, with a view to environmental matters, Labour will ensure that homes in the private rented sector meet minimum energy efficiency standards by 2030. It is not clear whether this means that there will be a change to existing minimum standards or whether some or all existing exemptions may be removed.

Rural transport will be affected by various proposals, including the reintroduction of a ban on internal combustion engine cars by 2030; the creation of further charge points; an additional one million potholes across England fixed each year; and deferral of the A27 bypass. Railways will be nationalised and there is a reference to reducing compulsory purchase compensation. There is also the promise of full gigabit and national 5G coverage.

Farming and natural capital

In line with the other parties, Labour pledges to support local produce, promising to set a target for half of all food purchased across the public sector to be locally produced or certified to higher environmental standards. As with the Liberal Democrats, a look to end badger culling is included, with a promise to work with farmers and scientists to eradicate Bovine TB.

Otherwise, though, food security plays second fiddle to environment schemes. The manifesto pledges a new land-use framework and to make environment land management schemes (ELMS) work for farmers and nature – so it seems likely that a Labour Government will bring another raft of changes to sustainable farming incentives (SFI).

The manifesto goes on to pledge the planting of millions of trees and creation of new woodlands, including three new National Forests in England. One hopes the localism food security targets will be mapped to woodland creation so that saplings are locally sourced in the interests of habitat creation, forestry, and biosecurity, particularly given that Chalara (Ash dieback) came at least in part from imported ash saplings. Labour also intends to create nine new National River Walks and invest in nature-rich habitats such as wetlands, peat bogs and forests, presumably through further grant schemes. 

Changes to SFI and the planting promises will bring "stacking" into sharp focus as the biodiversity net gain (BNG) is not criticised in the manifesto, so those looking to use ELMS and woodland grant schemes to create woodlands will need good advice on the overlay of BNG arrangements.

Looking at those importing or exporting food, horses, and livestock, Labour promises a new veterinary agreement to prevent "unnecessary" border checks and address pricing. They also promise to promote the highest standards for food production when accessing international markets, though what this would look like in practice remains unclear.

Housing and rental

Like the other main parties, the abolition of s21 'no fault' evictions is included, as is the desire to tackle unaffordable ground rents. The real surprise is the promise to ban new leasehold flats and ensure commonhold is the default tenure (essentially a form of freehold ownership for flats where the tenants jointly own and manage their building or estate). This will be particularly relevant for landowners with urban portfolios, such as the London freehold estates and developers. Given the legal mechanics, this is a change that will require significant consideration and is highly unlikely to happen overnight. New leaseholds may be banned but there is no suggestion of tenancies (i.e., short leases by another name) being phased out, implying that the ban may only be on leases over a certain length.

Many properties on various London freehold estates are subject to long leases now with under 20 years remaining on the term. If the leaseholder chooses not to extend the lease, Labour's proposals will incentivise freeholders to let those properties on short tenancies at the end of the current term or sell with ramifications for the market. Buyers are likely to be more substantially affected. London residential developments with flats are usually sold off on new long leases and buyers may be wary about ongoing maintenance and the enforcement of service charges in a commonhold block.

Turning to housing, Labour promises 1.5 million new homes, so 300,000 per annum (slightly lower than the Conservatives' 1.6 million and Lib Dems' 1.9 million) and immediate updates to the National Policy Planning Framework (NPPF). Like the Conservatives, brownfield sites will be prioritised for redevelopment, as will new towns and new mechanisms for cross-boundary strategic planning. This will comes as welcome news to those seeking allocation relying in part on neighbouring authorities' housing needs. We discuss the parties' proposals on planning in more detail here.

Increasing affordable housing and stock of social rented homes remains high on the agenda. Some changes with potentially profound implications from a land law and market perspective are also included: a promise to give first-time buyers the first chance to buy homes (perhaps akin to the Asset of Community Value moratorium structure) and an end to developments being sold off to international investors before houses are even built. If enacted, this reform could impact pension and other equities funds while also limiting investment in the sector.

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