Dominic Raab is the new housing minister. So what are his big ideas?

Housing minister Dominic Raab. Image: Getty.

It’s safe to say the housing world has been on a bit of a rollercoaster journey over the past 48 hours. We’ve had rumours about a dedicated housing minister role in the cabinet, quickly put to bed by its integration into the newly named Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (or MHCLG – not an acronym that rolls off the tongue too easily). And finally, yesterday, came the shock news that Alok Sharma is to be replaced as housing minister by Dominic Raab.

So whilst many see the cabinet re-shuffle as more of a re-brand, in the housing sector, we are seeing real change occur. Alok Sharma has certainly been playing a key role in community engagement and consultation during one of the most turbulent and tragic eras in housing to date. I sincerely hope we can still see the legacy of his work.

However, Raab’s appointment has the potential to shake things up a little – and perhaps that’s what we need. After all, you can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results. And, let’s be honest, the housing sector has had a bit of a reputation for its ‘traditional’ approach over the years.

So we need a visionary. We need something new and brave to finally get to grips with this housing crisis.

Is Dominic Raab that visionary? Well, if we look back to his 2012 report with the Centre for Policy Studies, Unleashing the Underdog, we can perhaps catch a glimpse of what’s to come. 

Raab pushes for equality – but he sees innovation as key to achieving this. Ever heard of tenants having a “right to own”? This bold concept he talked of in 2012 involved releasing “dead equity” and gifting social housing tenants with a percentage of the capital, “to incentivise home ownership and finance new social housing”.


This report was written over five years ago, but it shows imaginative solutions to housing issues. These are bold concepts and we can work together to shape them into deliverable and practical solutions.

Secondly, this specific “Right to Own” idea sets out a desire to increase ownership opportunities for all aspiring homeowners – not just the privileged few – and he notes just how important homeownership can be in achieving social mobility. This is something that we, as a sector, embrace. Home Group only recently asked its customers if they wanted to own their own homes, and a huge 87 per cent said yes. We also know through recent YouGov research that raising a deposit remains the biggest barrier to ownership.

This is why we launched our own home ownership product, “Deposit Builder”, to respond to the challenge and meet customer aspirations. It shares the same goal as Raab’s “Right to Own” – helping social housing customers into homeownership. It works by enabling customers to save a deposit while they are renting – through a discount on their tenancy, price freezes and match-funding the government’s Help to Buy ISA.

So perhaps through this appointment what we might start to see is much bigger and bolder thinking that inspires the sector in this way. And if Raab does meet barriers along the way, let’s work together to come up with new ways to overcome them.

But better still, if we are led by a visionary housing minister, we might just see that there is a power to remove such barriers for the greater good.

Mark Henderson is chief executive of the housing association Home Group.

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A warped mirror: on gentrification and deprivation on London’s Caledonian Road

The London Overground crosses Caledonian Road. Image: Claude Lynch.

Capital cities are, more often than not, a focal point for the stark divide between rich and poor – places where the most economically deprived meet the most economically empowered. In London, these divides can be more than stark: they can be close, even intimate, and there are districts where crossing the street can be like entering a different world. One such street is the Caledonian Road.

Known local as “the Cally”, Caledonian Road runs for about a mile and a half, from Kings Cross to the Nags Head junction in Holloway, and was built in 1826 to provide a new arterial route to the north from the West End. At first, developments on the road were sparse; among the first notable buildings were the Royal Caledonian Asylum, which gave the road its name, and H.M. Prison Pentonville.

For some time, the northern half of the road was seen as far removed from central London, which stymied development. It wasn’t until the latter half of the 19th century residential development really got going. By the time Caledonian Road station opened on the Piccadilly line in 1906, the area was flush with Victorian terraces.

These, though, mainly lay on the eastern side. To the west, the proximity of King’s Cross prompted the development of heavy industry, particularly the clay kilns that were helping to build Victorian London proper. The divide had begun:  the east side of the street, the area known as Barnsbury, was notably quieter and calmer than the west side. Ever since the 19th century, the ‘V’ formed by Caledonian Road and York Way has been known for a high incidence of gang violence and social problems.

As in many parts of London, the end of the Second World War brought a chance to start from scratch. Many of the slums to the west of the Cally had been bombed to smithereens, and those that remained still lacked gas and hot water.

But this was the era of municipal dreams: Islington council cleared the slums and constructed the Bemerton Estate. Instead of reflecting the industrial history of the area, the estate reflected Barnsbury back at itself, treating Caledonian Road as some sort of warped modernist mirror. The square gardens of Barnsbury were reimagined as the spaces between the highrises of Bemerton, and this time, they were actually square.

The estate was immediately popular, its open design prompting a renewed sense of community in the west. But it didn’t last.

Square gardens on one side, not-so-square on the other. Image: Google Maps/CityMetric

As far back as the 1950s, Islington had already become synonymous with gentrification. Forty years later, before moving to Downing Street, Tony Blair’s London residence was Barnsbury’s leafy Richmond Crescent. House prices in the area have gone through the roof and now Barnsbury is mainly home to a the professional elite.


At the same time, though, Caledonian Road’s warped mirror has given Bemerton the exact opposite: in spite of attempts to rejuvenate it, downward spiral of deprivation and antisocial behaviour have blighted the estate for some time The promise of inviting square gardens and communal living has been inhibited by crime and poverty; the gardens lie empty, while those in Barnsbury thrive.

The disparity of wealth across Caledonian Road is regrettable. That’s not just because it speaks to a wider segregation of London’s rich and poor – a phenomenon exemplified last year by the Grenfell Tower fire in Kensington & Chelsea, the richest borough in Britain. It’s also because, in the Bemerton Estate, planners had thought they saw an opportunity to offer more Londoners the idyll of square gardens and leafy streets, often reserved for the richest.

It might be too much to claim the estate as a failure; events such as the Cally Festival aim to bring together both sides of the road, while other council programmes such as Islington Reads help to foster a greater sense of neighbourhood.

Road should never divide us; rather, they should unite those who live on either side. The spirit of Caledonian Road should cross the gap – just like the railway bridge that bears its name.