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Housing and Planning Not Enough for New Minister

As reported last week, the housing sector welcomed a new Minister, Gavin Barwell.  A fairly youthful 41, he had already impressed private sector landlords by his outspoken opposition to licensing. If he continues to do so, and introduces some more measures that would help the private sector, it seems possible that here might be a Minister who would be a friend to private landlords – and in that, assist the many tenants that depend on the sector for their homes.

However, there may now be some scepticism about that as he has been given, in addition to housing and planning, the role of Minister for London. London has massive issues of affordability, poor landlords, ‘beds in sheds’, etc. Nobody would argue that a Minister of London is not needed, but to combine this huge role in itself with Housing and Planning, seems loading the new boy with an almost impossible task. Why were previous Housing Ministers allowed to concentrate on that single brief?

This has caused some disquiet with movers and shakers in the North, who see the Minister’s energies being unfairly concentrated in the South. The Chief Executive of New Charter Group, Ian Munro, believes there is a ‘real danger’ that the majority of funding will see most of the new build in the South, on shared-ownership schemes. This would address the problems of accommodation in the capital, but ignores the issues for generation rent in the rest of the country.

The Minister wasted no time in re-stating the Government’s commitment to having 1 million new homes built by 2020. Do the Office for National Statistics keep Mr. Barwell informed of their findings? They are projecting that households in England will increase by an average of 210,000 per year until 2039. It doesn’t take a Mathematician to see that even the generous and perhaps optimistic aim of building 200,000 per year will not be sufficient to meet the need. 

In addition to this, the House of Lords’ cross-party Economic Affairs Committee has investigated the housing crisis and published a report, stating their belief that the Government should increase its’ target for new homes to 300,000 per year. It was also critical of what they perceive is the Government’s stance on increasing home-ownership.

Baroness Jane Wheatcroft, a Tory peer, said ‘If there is one theme which runs through the report, it’s that the government has been completely wedded to the idea of extending home-ownership. We feel that’s the dream of 80% of the country, but it’s not going to be achievable for 80% of the country. Mr. Barwell will have to give some consideration to providing social housing and working with private sector landlords whilst all the planned building comes to fruition.’

Early days into Mr. Barwell’s ministry and it appears he will be facing a shortfall in the houses required to meet the needs of the coming years; the North are fearing that their needs will be ignored with the north-south divide growing; the House of Lords wanting targets on building increased by 50%. Time will tell whether he will rise to the challenge of being a Housing and Planning Minister for the whole country, as well as Minister for London.   

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