In an explosive episode of PropCast, former Conservative cabinet minister Steven Norris slams Boris Johnson’s leadership, praises Michael Gove’s handling of the cladding crisis and calls for overhaul of how the West End is governed.
The political heavyweight puts it simply to Blackstock Consulting’s Andrew Teacher: “Boris has really run out of road.”
Norris – known for serving alongside John Major as transport secretary – warns that a debacle like the Downing Street party could very well kill a political career.
He reckons Johnson models himself on Winston Churchill, which he takes as a bad omen for the PM: Churchill won the war, but lost once the crisis was over. Now that Brexit is finished, Johnson faces “the hard yards of governance”, and Norris thinks Johnson’s cheeky chap persona won’t help him anymore.
Jeremy Hunt – unsurprisingly – is Norris’s favoured successor should Johnson get thrown off the bus. “Maybe it’s time for somebody slightly less showy, slightly less spectacular – someone who can turn up at an international conference without looking like some sort of joke – and somebody who can actually take this country forward,” he explains.
The conversation moves to planning reform. Norris, chairman of Soho Estates, explains that local authorities have every incentive to block planning, because this is overwhelmingly what the people who elect them want. He doesn’t knock NIMBYs – because resisting change is natural – but he wants a system that gives councillors a reason to accept planning applications.
After a scathing take-down of Westminster’s council’s £6 million Marble Arch mound – the latest embarrassment to befall the West End – Norris criticises the council’s refusal to back al fresco dining and calls for the district to be given a similar status (and possibly joined together with) the City of London Corporation due to its special economic status.
Accepting that the deregulation of building control has been a major factor in the current building safety scandal, Norris agrees that: “There’s a perfectly sensible role for focussed building control. The local authority should be the arbiter of what amounts to safe building. There are far too many examples where properties have been put up badly – lives can be lost in circumstances like that.”
Whilst he questions the Government’s target of building 300,000 homes every year, Norris – who also chairs Future-Built, a company focussed on modern methods of construction – is a firm believer in the need to disrupt old construction techniques.
“It really is odd – there is no activity I can think of other than construction where we’re using the same methodology in the 21st century as those we used in centuries before Christ.”
The businessman espouses the benefits of light-gauge steel frames, which Future-Built specialises in. Compared to traditional techniques, “it’s a cleaner process, it’s a quieter process, it’s a quicker process.”
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