It will take a while for the dust to settle, now that we have a new prime minister in Liz Truss, a new chancellor in Kwasi Kwarteng and a new levelling-up and housing secretary in Simon Clarke. 

Lem Bingley

Lem Bingley

Prior housing secretary Greg Clark returns to the backbenches after two months as caretaker at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, during which brief stint he continued Michael Gove’s infamous approach of not sitting idle.

In a 5 September written statement to the Commons, Clark provided a round-up of what he’d been up to during the summer recess. He began by outlining the two devolution deals he had signed, to create combined authorities for York and North Yorkshire and for the East Midlands. Both are due to be enacted as part of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, and both aim to grant extensive new powers over transport and housing, among other topics. Central government cash has been earmarked in both cases to support new development on brownfield land.

The outgoing secretary of state also oversaw bidding for round two of the £4.8bn levelling-up fund, which eventually saw 525 applications submitted. According to my colleagues at Property Week’s sister publication the Local Government Chronicle (LGC), many bids ran over the £50m limit imposed by the rules, with Leeds City Council asking for £120m, for example.

LGC analysed the bids in detail and concluded that the second of three funding rounds would be “oversubscribed by billions”. A finding that underscores either the ambition or the desperation present in local authorities around the country, according to whether you take a glass-half-full or empty view of their need for levelling-up cash.

Before relinquishing his cabinet post, Clark also summarised his action on the cladding crisis, telling parliament he had “commenced the primary legislation that will enable us to establish an industry scheme to penalise developers who fail to discharge their responsibilities”.

This process will eventually see developers who fail to toe the department’s tough line on fixing dangerous buildings not only barred from obtaining planning permission but also prevented from exercising existing planning permissions. Rogue or recalcitrant firms will be booted off a central list of “responsible actors”.

He also told MPs that “a major planning application on the South Bank of London” – the 72 Upper Ground redevelopment of the former ITV studios – “has been called in for public inquiry to assess, among other things, the impact of the proposed development on the historic environment”.

Clark concluded: “I am proud of what has been delivered in eight weeks, and I am grateful to my officials in government departments as well as to partners in local councils, businesses and voluntary organisations across the United Kingdom for their intense work this summer. It shows what can be achieved to the benefit of all our citizens when people work together in joint endeavour.”

Clark had not backed either candidate in the Tory leadership race, but was sent packing by Truss nonetheless. To his almost namesake Simon Clarke, the departing secretary’s summary might possibly have been meant as a challenge – beat that, if you can.

One thing is certain. New levelling-up and housing secretary Clarke will have a lot on his plate however long he stays in post. Let’s hope he matches Clark’s work ethic.