The new housing minister: What’s he all about?

Radical reformer or practical performer? Nimby tackler or greenbelt defender?

“Giving local people a greater say over where homes should be built, what they look like and what infrastructure is needed alongside is proven to increase local support for development.”

.

We have a new ministry:

Levelling up: What’s it all about? – Vision Group for Sidmouth

And we have a new minister – and as the Architects Journal asks, What are we in for?

Michael Gove shelved planning shake-up just hours after being named as new Housing Secretary,’ cheers the Daily Mail. Such headlines will no doubt delight the good people of Middle England, but I can’t help but wonder if they’re in for a nasty surprise. Gove’s appointment looks a lot like an attempt to generate just that kind of headline, while delivering on the spirit of the planning reforms all the same...

‘The thing about Gove,’ another civil servant says, ‘is he’s either going to extend the green belt to Cambridge or compulsorily purchase all golf courses, depending on who he decides the blob are. There is no middle ground.’ He’s surprised everyone before, so perhaps it is too early to say what he’ll do as housing secretary. But whatever it is, it’s unlikely to involve much compromise.

Exit Robert Jenrick, enter Michael Gove. Just what are we in for?

The building industry is also ambivalent:

Radical reformer or practical performer? Nimby tackler or greenbelt defender? Speculation has begun about what kind of secretary of state for housing Michael Gove will turn out to be, as well as what his presence will mean for the sustainability agenda. Top of his in-tray, and at the tip of most commentators’ tongues, are of course the government’s controversial planning reforms and what will happen to them in the near future. In the longer term, there are also the details of the Future Homes Standard to be worked out.

What will Gove’s appointment mean for housing and sustainability? | Comment | Housing Today

There does seem to be an acceptance, however, even by the developers, that there will be a break on house-building, at least for the moment:

Pausing planning reforms will put the brakes on housebuilding | Property Reporter

There certainly seems to be an expectation across the country that there will be a ‘review’ and some sort of ‘pause’ to building:

Councillors’ wishlist for new minister Gove | Swindon Advertiser

Aylesbury Lib Dems demand planning ‘reform’ pause is used to tackle housing crisis | Bucks Herald

Relief at pause to planning shake-up that could leave more of Newcastle green belt ‘concreted over’ – Chronicle Live

And there is that expectation of a halt in the countryside too:

Cabinet reshuffle sparks rural planning law debate – Farmers Weekly

Nevertheless, as Will Tanner writing in the i newspaper today suggests, it’s the new minister’s interest in “social capital” and “strong local loyalties” which will have the strongest bearing on the direction of planning and house-building:

It is this vision for a more locally rooted society, as well as his personal record as one of the Government’s most able reformers – as demonstrated in education and justice – that makes Gove’s appointment as Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities the most significant of last week’s reshuffle…

Such an approach may be what is needed to unblock some of the thorniest issues in the Government’s in-tray, many of which Gove has inherited directly. The Government’s mooted planning reforms, for example, are controversial precisely because they impose strict central targets of thousands of new houses on places with nowhere but greenbelt land to build them. This is the worst type of bureaucratic control and a recipe for Nimbyism. In contrast, giving local people a greater say over where homes should be built, what they look like and what infrastructure is needed alongside is proven to increase local support for development.

Michael Gove is the right person to level up the country – he knows power belongs in local communities

   
© Vision Group for Sidmouth 2005-2021