A year ago yesterday, prime minister Theresa May pledged to “fix our broken housing market” and published a White Paper setting out how it would be done. So what’s been achieved, if anything at all since then?
The paper was universally welcomed by industry leaders, housing bodies and campaigners. Whatever colour of the government in charge, that hasn’t happened in a generation.
All sides welcomed the raft of proposals including plans to open up the market to smaller players and create a planning framework that is more supportive of higher levels of development.
And then it all went quiet.
Former housing minister Gavin Barwell, who was the chief architect of the policy ideas, lost his seat at the general election last May. He came back as Theresa May’s chief of staff but it meant there had to be yet another housing minister.
His replacement, Alok Sharma was just a day into the job when the Grenfell Tower disaster happened. Understandably, that took his focus away from the white paper.
Further upheaval came with the cabinet reshuffle. Although it made housing a cabinet position with Sajid Javid becoming secretary of state for housing and local government, it also saw Dominic Raab appointed as yet another housing minister.
There has been modest progress. Earlier this month, the government announced £866m of investment into local housing projects. But all in all, few of the proposals in the white paper have been put into action and the industry is increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress.
Things may be about to change
Ghislaine Halpenny, director of external affairs at the British Property Federation, advised ministers: “One: don’t reset the housing white paper, it’s good, just do it. Two: Accept the need for multi tenure. Three: encourage multi departmental working - good housing is the bedrock of all else.”
There’s a chance that things may be about to change. Dominic Raab is known to be eager to get on. “He knows the history of housing ministers. He is clear that he isn’t going to waste time and wants to make an impact quickly,” a Conservative adviser close to Rabb told Property Week.
It won’t be all plain sailing. He faces a giant, immovable object: the rural wing of the Conservative Party. For them the greenbelt is sacrosanct and they do not want their parliamentary seats becoming marginal battlegrounds.
A tweet last month by MP for Tewkesbury, Laurence Robertson, revealed what he discussed with Gavin Barwell in Downing Street: “Attended a meeting at No 10 with the PM’s Chief of Staff today. Discussed the NHS, defence and housing & planning. I expressed concern about unnecessary incursions into the Green Belt and flood-risk areas.”
But there is plenty in the white paper that isn’t controversial and has already been welcomed by politicians, industry leaders and community groups alike. One year on from its publication, it’s high time government started putting the proposals into action.