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Can the Ministry work its magic on the Government’s problem policy?

More than a re-brand, the re-naming of DCLG as a Ministry symbolises just how critical solving our much-discussed housing crisis is, with yet another Housing Minister needing to get acquainted with the key issues and therefore, is the best we can hope for just some stability of advice and policy? Jonathan Dyke, Strategic Land Director at IM Land considers what the new Ministry means for the industry.

Theresa May’s reshuffle and ditching of DCLG for the new ‘Ministry’ moniker is a clear statement of intent. It’s one that should, in theory, provide surety that solving the often quagmire-like experience of delivering housing is a national priority. And yet the reality is – 17 Housing Ministers in 20 years – which points to a deep-seated inability to deliver coherent policy, one not limited to this Government.

Various Governments have not managed to navigate politically-fraught issues of, housing our population who have a wide spectrum of needs, it has remained a constant problem policy.

The renewed attention bestowed on the subject is admirable. New Ministry, new Minister, new intent to make incremental steps to a 300,000 a year new homes target. The pillars on which this will successfully be built are stability, coherency, collaboration and the ability to make tough decisions for a great goal. Let’s look at those…

1. Stability: Minister after Minister has worked hard to grapple with the issues and put forward a vision, however, it takes at least six months to get your feet under the table in any role, no matter the candidate’s calibre. Recently-shuffled Alok Sharma was out in seven.

With an ambitious and well-thought-of chief in the form of Sajid Javid MP, the ministry, needs a Housing Minister willing to put in the hours and commit to a successful tenure. Now more than ever, the minister will need to work side-by-side with Javid to deliver a consistent vision coupled with a delivery plan that the industry is bought into.

2. Coherency: Successive Governments have failed to come even close to the widely-accepted 200,000 home baseline need, despite countless election promises. Changes to planning policy – more notably its interpretation locally – are just one set of many changing goalposts the industry has had to navigate. With more planning reforms touted in the form of NPPF changes, as the Housing White Paper filters through to policy, our industry will need to re-acquaint itself with another blueprint.

We promote and deliver strategic sites. From site identification stage to residents getting the keys, in some instances it can take a decade. While measures to simplify and speed up the process is positive, what is really needed is coherent commitments that a) have some longevity and b) are enforced consistently across local authorities.

3. Collaboration: The industry, from land promoters to volume housebuilders, have an (unfair) reputation. But it is they who hold the keys to hitting targets and who are often staking significant financial risk on consenting and delivering a site, let alone the hope the market remains strong.

It would be good to see a Ministry, and to a certain extent a general public, that recognises the contribution the industry makes to Britain’s economy and the good it can do in communities when thought-through and well planned. Two-way dialogue with the Ministry is a must on this front, and that should extend to all of the development industry

4. Tough decisions: See point 3. Spatial planning and infrastructure delivery makes for often unpopular decisions at all tiers of the decision-making process.

At some point the Government needs to tackle the Green Belt issue, to support the
growth of some of our city regions. Local authorities also have a role to play in embracing what the industry can deliver on their patch and having open discussions about how collaborative working can achieve this.

As an industry, our challenge is to restore the faith in what we can achieve by delivering sustainable developments, in considered locations, that deliver on economic ambitions and create a legacy for existing communities. This is at the heart of IM Land’s approach – we’re up for the job.