Commentary on the new housing secretary.
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Speaking at the government-sponsored Design Quality Conference in April, two senior ministers told a room full of planning and housing professionals that this government is “really serious” about delivering homes.
Dominic Raab and Sajid Javid gave impassioned speeches about the need to build the “kinds of homes that families dream of” and at a pace that could satisfy popular demand.
Less than three months later, those two are gone - joining a significant list of ministers whose time at the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government was short-lived.
Since I started reporting on housing and planning for LGC in January, I have now covered three housing ministers.
Like Mr Javid, Dominic Raab never endeared himself to local government.
The chief executive of Leeds-based housing association Unity Homes and Enterprise today encapsulated the view from many within local government of the new Brexit secretary when he described Mr Raab as “somewhat detached and arguably disinterested in working closely with us”.
So what of the latest man (and indeed, all eight Conservative housing ministers have been men) to take on the role?
North West Hampshire MP Kit Malthouse most recently served as family support, housing and child maintenance minister at the Department for Work and Pensions.
He was first elected MP in 2015, having served on the Greater London Authority, first as deputy mayor for policing (2008–12) and then as deputy mayor for business and enterprise (2012–15).
Where Mr Malthouse appears to differ from several of his predecessors, is in his self-professed passion for housing and planning, evidence in an interesting series of posts on his blog and YouTube page.
He is in favour of boosting infrastructure funding while protecting the countryside and empowering local communities in the planning process.
In one blog, he said that “planning should be something done with people not to them”, adding “distant bureaucrats don’t know the area and don’t live there, those that do should decide”.
On Tuesday 18 October 2016, he told a committee scrutinising the Neighbourhood Planning Bill that “probably the most feared organisation in my constituency is not the Inland Revenue or the police, but the Planning Inspectorate”.
Mr Malthouse then asked a representative for the Royal Institute of British Architects whether there should be additional restrictions on the “jurisdiction” of the planning authority.
And in a YouTube post last July, he said he had been campaigning ”strongly” for neighbourhood plans as an issue that is ”very close” to his heart. His constituency contains many areas with neighbourhood plans, including the constituency town of Andover.
Mr Malthouse’s core problem will be the housing crisis, with underfunded planning departments a significant contributing factor.
At a time when councils should be looking to expand departments to help build more homes, more and more councils are being forced to strip planning offices back so they can only deliver their core statutory duties.
The solution, as Mr Malthouse said in Parliament last December, “will be a long-term one”, before noting that it will take “some time” to build the 250,000 - 300,000 houses a year needed to meet the government’s aims.
Whatever the new housing secretary’s views, there are huge problems facing the UK house-building sector which must be addressed. This can only be done if the housing minister is given sufficient time in the role.
With the opposition calling another general election now ‘inevitable’, it remains to be seen whether this will be the case.
Robert Cusack, reporter