Planning applications last longer than planning ministers

Eleanor Deeley, Joint Managing Director, discusses housing policy and why it should be a major priority for political parties ahead of the next election.

With an election beginning to loom on the horizon, housing supply and need is likely to be at the forefront of political debates as campaigning steps up.

At least that is what you would assume – but how much is the issue really a major priority, certainly for the two main parties?

When Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivered his five promises for 2023 they covered inflation, growing the economy, reducing debt, cutting NHS waiting lists and passing legislation to “stop small boats”.

Keir Starmer’s five missions should Labour form the next government took in clean energy, highest G7 growth, the NHS, opportunities through education, and safer streets.

Not a mention of housing in either set of ambitions, so certainly, on that evidence, it is not an issue that is at the forefront of political thinking.

I am sure that is down to the fact that for politicians, it is, to an extent, a no-win issue. Typically, people are not in favour of housebuilding near their homes, but equally they are not happy when their children cannot get on to the property ladder.

There has been a case in point in Warwickshire over the last few months where a site designated for housing in the local plan was twice turned down, but granted on appeal with all costs awarded against the local authority, but then called in by Government.

So – recommended for housing, blocked, approved, blocked – taking time, costing money and, so far, delivering nothing.

I have been invited to sit on the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Housing Market & Housing Delivery which is dedicated to improving the UK housing market.

I accepted the invitation because not only will it hopefully give me added insight to Government and industry thinking, but hopefully allow an SME house builder’s voice to be heard.

I have just attended my first meeting which was really very interesting and there was a suggestion that the Housing Minister should be a cabinet post.

So many life outcomes are determined or at least impacted by housing and its quality – physical welfare, mental health, diet, education. Ministers who have responsibility for these matters sit on the cabinet, so not to have housing represented at that level when so many things flow housing, is certainly not logical.

There also needs to be some long term thinking both politically and in the industry.

For example, Rachel Maclean is the 15th Housing Minister since 2010. I would imagine that many of those ministers are intelligent and effective operators, but it is impossible for them to make an impact and therefore for Government to provide any continuity of policy with a constant churn.

We have had planning applications that have lasted longer than ministers!

The decision to scrap house building targets has also only increased the impression (or maybe the reality) that house building policy is rudderless.

How can local authorities plan – or even act with necessary urgency – if there is no target for them to aim for?

So, we need certainly and we need an approach that goes beyond the short term and one that gives a clarity of approach.

I am not holding my breath!