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General Election 2017: Is the housing crisis set to rumble on?

Homes / iStock_000020788340

Dominick Veasey considers the election result and the job that lies ahead for new planning minister Alok Sharma.

When Theresa May called a snap general election in April, she did so to bolster her party’s majority in the House of Commons and reinforce her mandate ahead of Brexit negotiations. As we know however, the outcome did not go according to plan.

With the Conservative minority government reliant on the DUP, the Prime Minister’s room for manoeuvre has been severely reduced, raising questions as to how long such an arrangement can last. As a result, the hung parliament – in addition to Brexit – will certainly foster greater uncertainty; both for British politics and the planning industry alike.

Although Sajid Javid has been kept on as secretary of state for communities and local government, providing reassurance and continuity for the industry, Gavin Barwell lost his seat in Croydon Central, paving the way for Alok Sharma to fill the role as minister of state for housing and planning. Sharma, who comes into the role without any previous experience of housing or planning, will need to be briefed quickly in order to meet the considerable challenges of the portfolio. Indeed, with six different ministers having held the position in the last decade alone and the country’s housing crisis showing no signs of abating, Sharma will have a mountain to climb.

Pledging to tackle the housing crisis, the Conservatives maintained their 2015 pledge to build one million new homes by 2020, meaning approximately 240,000 would need to be delivered per annum for the next three years. Sharma will also need to oversee the delivery of a further half a million new homes from 2020-2022. To put this task into context, the last time the UK built homes on this scale was in the 1970s, when the public sector was delivering approximately 120,000 new council houses per year.

In the House of Commons, both the government and opposing benches will want local authorities to take more responsibility in driving the development agenda forward; which should most definitely be welcomed. This is a tough task however, given the fact that many council planning departments are lacking in human and financial resources and face communities reluctant to accommodate major housing projects.

The government’s parliamentary fragility may also mean that other Conservative planning pledges will become difficult to implement, such as promises to make fracking easier. For the moment, there is too much uncertainty to predict whether such plans will be maintained.

The lack of MPs, restricted resources within council planning departments and prolonged market uncertainty make the government’s housing targets appear very optimistic. As a result, Alok Sharma has a very difficult task on his hands. It would therefore be no surprise to see the housing crisis remain on the agenda at the next general election, whenever that might be.

Dominick Veasey is an associate director at planning consultancy Nexus Planning.

Read more:

Planning minister Barwell loses his seat

Industry reacts as Conservatives form government with DUP support

Javid keeps post as communities secretary

Alok Sharma appointed as planning minister

Image credit | iStock


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