Originally published as a column for Inside Housing on September 23.
So it’s farewell to the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government and hello to the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
As rumoured last week, we have new brass plates and stationery to go with new secretary of state Michael Gove at Marsham Street and its new office in Wolverhampton.
So what’s the difference between MHCLG and DLUHC? First, and most obvious, is that top billing for levelling up, as DLUHC becomes the unpronounceable in pursuit of the undefinable.
Second, it’s worth remembering why the rebranding to MHCLG seemed so significant when it happened three and a half years and three secretaries of state ago.
It was not just the H in the title, it was the way it was a deliberate echo of the 1950s and 1960s, when the two main parties competed with each other to build more council houses, and Macmillan rather than Thatcher seemed the reference point for the Tories on housing.
Third, an important caveat to that: although relegated to second billing, housing is still there in the name, which is more than can be said for its predecessors since the 1970s.
Within a department with significant extra responsibilities (not just levelling up but preserving the union as well) housing is at least still a priority of sorts. Local government has disappeared.Read the rest of this entry »
Originally written as a column for Inside Housing.
So it’s farewell to Robert Jenrick and time to ‘welcome’ a new housing secretary in Michael Gove.
The removal of Mr Jenrick is not a great surprise given a record that includes Westferry, failure to fix the building safety crisis and a flagship policy on planning reform that seems to be sinking.
Still more so when he ranked third bottom in Conservative Home’s survey of grassroots Tories on how they see members of the Cabinet. Only Gavin Williamson (sacked) and Amanda Milling (demoted) were less popular than him.
But he also got more money out of the Treasury for building safety than either of his two predecessors and that unpopularity may deserve more respect if it was based on nimby opposition to his planning reform agenda to deliver more homes
The former housing secretary was an early supporter of Boris Johnson and was loyal to the point of defending government policies on the Sunday morning talk shows that were scrapped in u-turns an hour later.
But loyalty is not always what counts in politics and as if to prove the point he is replaced by Michael Gove, the man who famously stabbed Johnson in the back in the 2016 Tory leadership contest.
The former Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is the longest-serving current cabinet minister and brings with him cross-departmental clout that will include driving forward the manifesto commitments to deliver 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s and end rough sleeping by the end of this parliament
He was the shadow housing minister before Grant Shapps so he will be familiar with the issues and the main players and he will get an early reminder today of the biggest new issue in his in-tray when leaseholders and building safety campaigners hold a rally in Westminster.
However, such an apparently known quantity still leaves plenty of questions about what his priorities will be and he retains a capacity to surprise (not least on the dance floor).
He comes with a reputation for delivery forged in the Cabinet Office but while some of this morning’s papers see his new job as central to the government’s mission to level up, others see it as a demotion or disappointment compared to his hopes of higher office.Read the rest of this entry »
Originally published as a column for Inside Housing
As the staycation summer starts to draw to a close, spare a thought for everyone living in the places where the rest of us have been on holiday.
Coastal areas and beauty spots in the countryside are well used to tourists but this year has really brought home the impact of second homes, holiday lets and relocating buyers on housing for locals.
On the beach on the Llyn peninsula in North Wales, the message is Hawl i Fyw Adra (the Right to Live at Home) while demonstrators have scaled the country’s highest mountains to protest that Nid yw Cymru ar Werth (Wales is not for Sale).
In the South West of England, there are persistent reports of Londoners snapping up homes they’ve seen online without even viewing them in person and of tenants being evicted to make way for lucrative holiday lets.
House prices beyond the reach of local wages and rents inflated by holiday lets have long been features of the market but a new development this year is an acute shortage of any homes for rent, let alone affordable ones.
A quick search on Rightmove for my home town in Cornwall reveals just four rentals listed all summer – a studio flat, two bedsits in an HMO and a retirement flat.Read the rest of this entry »