If anything epitomises this government’s lack of commitment to housing, it is surely Lee Rowley’s appointment as the 16th housing minister in 13 years. In his case, it’s his second time in the job, because he was Liz Truss’s choice for the 49 days she was in No 10, so at least he knows the brief.
What took the industry by surprise was that Rowley’s predecessor Rachel Maclean was sacked. Apparently, she and her boss, Michael Gove, did not get on. Worse is that this is because she was seen to be keen to boost housebuilding.
You might have thought this was a natural ambition for someone in her post, but it underlines what I have said on several occasions in these pages: namely that Gove doesn’t actually want more housing. If he did, he would never have abandoned the mandatory five-year land supply obligation on local planning authorities (LPAs).
He knows that the rapid rise in interest rates, and thus mortgage costs, combined with build costs and labour shortages, has already put pressure on the sector. He also knows that his abandonment of pressure on planning authorities via the local plan means that the goal of building 300,000 homes has been utterly trashed.
Gove clearly thinks that all Tory voters are Nimbys – and he could not be more wrong. These days, regardless of income or social status, there is much more concern among parents who see no way in which their children can ever afford a home of their own. It is not just in so-called red-wall seats won from Labour at the last election that voters are likely to turn against the Tories. It will be equally true throughout the country.
This government now has less than a year to go. In his first year, prime minister Rishi Sunak has not narrowed Labour’s poll lead by a single point. It is now increasingly likely that Labour will have a sufficient majority to form the next administration.
The party has said it would restore the obligation on LPAs to have an approved five-year land supply. It is not paranoid about the sanctity of the green belt and has also said it would tackle reform of the failing planning system.
But it will have to recognise, as London’s mayor seems not to have done, that insisting on undeliverable affordable housing levels is a fatal error; 50% of nothing is just that. Nor does its plan to force farmers to sell land at agricultural rather than potential development value look likely to succeed.
But Labour at least can be taken seriously when the party says it is committed to building the homes the country needs. It distresses me deeply that the same simply cannot be said for the current government.
No more politics of property
I have been writing for Property Week now for more than two decades under no less than five editors. I’ve enjoyed writing my column enormously and been delighted at the feedback I’ve had from readers. One of the advantages I’ve always had is that I wrote what I wanted to say, rather than writing on behalf of some corporate interest.
Most of my readers will know that I was an MP for nearly 15 years and minister of transport for five, with a particular brief to look after London in the years before the mayoralty. It’s given me a great platform to write on the politics of property.
I have not always agreed with my own party (see above) and I always rated Ken Livingstone as by far the best mayor so far – and the current incumbent the worst.
I‘ve covered recessions and booms, good prime ministers and bad. But now is the time for me to move on, so this will be my last column for Property Week. Thanks to all of you who have made the past 20 years so enjoyable and good luck to you all.
Steve Norris is chairman of Soho Estates