During Alok Sharma’s first speech as housing and planning minister, he quipped that there had been five planning ministers in five years and, a bit like Doctor Who, he was merely the latest incarnation.
“I very much hope to be in place for a decent length of time,” he told the RESI Conference in September, three months after he took over the brief.
Perhaps seven months in the job was a little less than he had in mind.
On 9 January, Dominic Raab replaced Mr Sharma, inheriting one of the most challenging briefs on Whitehall. Although planning seems to have been dropped from the job title, the task remains as important as ever.
Government figures state 217,345 net additional homes were added to England’s housing stock during 2016-17, an increase of almost 20,000 on the previous year. That’s some way below the 300,000 annual additional homes chancellor Philip Hammond claims are needed. Helping Sajid Javid implement solutions to the housing crisis is likely to require an able communicator with more than seven months in the job.
As for Javid, a tweak in the name of his department is a welcome, symbolic change, but it will mean little in an operational sense. He is set to have a busy 2018, starting with the scheduled spring publication of a revised National Planning Policy Framework. In the longer term, it will be interesting to see how Javid nurtures signs of a renaissance in council housebuilding and a burgeoning modular homebuilding sector.
One of Javid’s big headaches is that 40% of planning authorities do not have plans that meet projected growth in households in their area, partly due to local tensions in approving new development. We hope Javid and Raab are now given some time to make real progress. As each year passes and each homebuilding target is missed, the backlog of unbuilt homes grows larger.