It’s an even month, so it must be time for a new Minister for Housing. This time the Wheel of Fortune has settled on Rachel Maclean MP, an Oxford Graduate, who has also been a Minister in several other departments. So far, so familiar.
The new Minister is another with seemingly little background experience in the housing and planning sectors, with only minor recent interventions in planning in her own constituency (Redditch, Worcestershire) to oppose a solar farm. But she has good Conservative roots as a hard-working, socially aware entrepreneur. Having set up her own publishing business with her husband, and more recently an HR software business, she also found the time to create her own charity, Skilled and Ready, to help address the gap between the education system and the skills employers want, as well as bringing up four children.
In Parliament she has been a dependable servant for the Government of the day since being elected in 2017, voting with her party on almost every occasion. Prior to becoming an MP, she voted Remain in the EU referendum , but having made the decision to resign from her Ministerial position to help facilitate the ousting of Boris Johnson, she voted for Right wing favourites Kemi Badenoch and then Liz Truss in last year’s Conservative Party leadership elections. Her personal campaign interests have historically been around domestic abuse, police training (she was previously a Home Office Minister), and migration issues with dozens of written questions tabled on these topics over her time in the House of Commons.
In February 2022, she also met with constituents who were campaigning against an application for 216 homes on a golf course in her constituency. Following this meeting, she acknowledged, “as an MP I have no direct involvement in local planning decisions but I still take a close interest in these matters as these decisions affect the lives of my constituents.” Furthermore, she has campaigned against the development of a large solar farm application in her Redditch constituency, aligning herself with local residents. Prominent amongst her concerns about the solar scheme (which we have not reviewed) were the loss of high quality farm land – and intriguingly – lack of good design and placemaking.
Her parting comment about the proposals in a speech to Parliament should concern many in the development industry – not least renewables developers: “no one is opposed to renewable energy, but it should be installed on rooftops, car parks, office buildings or brownfield land…I don’t believe our Levelling Up agenda will be served by solar farms of this scale and size.”
Presumably the same train of thought could be carried on covering onshore wind generation where developers had, perhaps, thought there may be a glimmer of hope of ending the moratorium in recent months. That hope may be quashed now.
Housebuilders who have suffered a torrid time with threats over changes to the NPPF and amendments to the Levelling Up Bill will be relieved to know that she was not planning to rebel on the Bill, at least not publicly. But it does not stretch logic too far to see her arguments about the round Hill Solar Farm being extended to house building (and other types of development) as well.
However, she was only appointed at 5pm yesterday, so she probably hasn’t even been to her new office yet. I should probably give her more time and will report back again later. Watch this space.
*Image courtesy of Parliament UK