Minister of State for Housing
Another year, another Housing Minister. The latest is the Rt Hon Lucy Frazer KC, a bright and able MP from Cambridgeshire with an impressive legal career. Like many recent Housing Ministers, Ms Frazer has not had the benefit of a development or planning background but she has been a Minister in a variety of departments in recent years and is viewed by Downing Street as being a safe pair of hands.
On 10th January, Ms Frazer presented to Planning Futures members at a Parliamentary Reception and Cratus went along to hear what she had to say. In short, there was not much in the way of new policy and no deviation from the party line – very much as expected. However, there were some useful hints about the Government’s attitude in the language of her speech.
It is worth saying that the speech identified the issues facing the housing market pretty well. There is a shortage of homes and an urgent need to build more. There was a commitment to the 300,000 homes a year target. There was a recognition that home ownership is falling and the age of first-time buyers is rapidly increasing. At this point of the speech the audience of developers and planners were nodding along, while having a pretty good idea of what was coming next.
Then, abruptly, we got into the criticism of the development sector. Apparently, the sector has not been building enough schools, or doctors surgeries, or other infrastructure. And has been guilty of planning by appeal – and building ugly developments.
However, the solutions put forward don’t seem to be addressing the problems so correctly identified by the Government. If we want to build more homes, particularly in the South East, restricting land supply and effectively ruling out any Green Belt (Ms Frazer appeared to mix green field and Green Belt at times) development is unlikely to help. While removing the tools to help new homes (5 year supply) through the Planning system will also be detrimental to getting things done where authorities have failed to make a Plan. And while we at Cratus completely believe in the value of attractive developments, we don’t think that making designs more “beautiful” is going to drastically change the opinion towards the development of communities.
We do believe that there are some real solutions out there. For example, as the redoubtable Catriona Riddell said, the reintroduction of Strategic Planning, allowing housing development to be more closely linked with the development of new infrastructure, would be a good start. Resourcing the planning system properly would be a good start. Ensuring that Local Plans were actually in place and up to date would certainly help. Communicating better as an industry about what we have delivered and what we are delivering (schools, parks, health centres, play spaces, etc etc etc) across England and in particular districts would also begin to help.
This iteration of the NPPF and the LURB will not help bring forward more homes and will ensure the housing crisis endures for another generation. It is short term politics at its worst – with the Conservatives worried about Local Elections in May and a General Election in the next 12-18 months – but what happens when the older generation of home owning Tories is gone? Who will vote for the Conservatives then?
It was a well delivered speech, but the Government’s current proposals will not achieve its stated aims.
We’ll be in touch over the coming years to let you know how it pans out….