What will Theresa May's housing policy be?

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss: Theresa May and David Cameron, last October. Image: Getty.

A week is a long time in politics; two weeks is an eternity. 

After the UK voted to leave the European Union, Prime Minister David Cameron felt his position was untenable and the process of finding a new leader began. Given how fast politics moves these days, it will come as no surprise to learn that the country will have a new prime minister by Wednesday evening, in the form of Theresa May.

At the time of writing, the details of a May government are yet to be provided. But do we have any indication as to the impact on planning and housing policy?

In a speech delivered before it was announced that she would become the new Conservative leader and Prime Minister, Theresa May provided an insight into her feelings on housing. Many commentators were surprised by the breadth and complexity highlighted:

“Unless we deal with the housing deficit, we will see house prices keep on rising.  Young people will find it even harder to afford their own home.  The divide between those who inherit wealth and those who don’t will become more pronounced.”

These are encouraging words. They seem to show a recognition that we need to build more homes; that people are being priced out of owning their own home; and that some people are able to accrue assets while many others cannot.

May also makes a very interesting link between housing costs and economic productivity. This could set the scene to better understand the link between housing costs and local economic performance:

“And more and more of the country’s money will go into expensive housing instead of more productive investments that generate more economic growth.”

A strong supporter of Theresa May’s leadership bid has been the current housing and planning minister, Brandon Lewis. Speaking before the announcement that Theresa May would become the next Prime Minister, he stated:

“Whoever the Prime Minister is, we have to stay true to the manifesto we launched last year, which had two key housing policies: starter homes and extending the Right to Buy to 1.3m people. There’s no reason that would change.”

This message should be unsurprising, for four reasons. First, the Conservative Party continues to have a mandate to deliver on their manifesto promises from 2015. There is no constitutional requirement for there to be another general election if the Prime Minister steps down, and maintaining substantial parts of its election manifesto helps to underpin the party’s democratic and political rationale for not going to the country.

Secondly, the direction of travel for housing policy has been made very clear, and agreed by Parliament. The Housing & Planning Bill became an Act just in May this year; the plethora of consultations and regulations that need to be discussed, debated and agreed are already in motion and various housing policy objectives have been announced. There would be little incentive to change the direction of this complicated and wide-ranging policy reform now.

Thirdly, with a great deal of high-level political attention to be focused on managing the process of Brexit itself, the fact that housing and planning policy already has its key principles established means that DCLG civil servants are in the encouraging position of being able to continue work on the details of implementation – through revisions to the NPPF, the PPG, and the regulations that will bring into force the Housing & Planning Act’s measures – all with a view to putting in place the changes over the coming months.

Finally, in the face of economic uncertainty, there is a strong case for the government doing everything it can to maintain “business as usual” for housing supply and investment. Indeed, since the government saw these housing and planning reforms as crucial to stimulate development and drive economic growth before the referendum, they will now see them as an imperative to ensure economic stability.

It therefore seems that, despite the political upheaval and looming economic uncertainty, Theresa May’s government will want to emphasise the role of housing, development and planning, ensure that policy reform continues to happen and do everything it can to promote stability. As this is a policy area that has seen huge change in the last few years, some stability would no doubt be welcomed by most in the sector.

Joe Sarling is associate director of planning consultancy Nathanial Lichfield & Partners. This article was originally posted on the firm’s blog

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Mayor Marvin Rees' hope for Bristol: A more equitable city that can 'live with difference'

“I call on everyone to challenge racism and inequality in every corner of our city," Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees says. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

When the statue of 18th century slave trader Edward Colston was torn from its plinth and dumped in Bristol’s harbour during the city’s Black Lives Matter protests on 7 June, mayor Marvin Rees was thrust into the spotlight. 

Refraining from direct support of the statue’s removal, the city’s first black mayor shared a different perspective on what UK home secretary Priti Patel called “sheer vandalism”:

“It is important to listen to those who found the statue to represent an affront to humanity,” he said in a statement at the time. “I call on everyone to challenge racism and inequality in every corner of our city and wherever we see it.”

48 year-old Rees, who grew up in the city, has since expanded on his approach to the issue in an interview with CityMetric, saying “wherever you stand on that spectrum, the city needs to be a home for all of those people with all of those perspectives, even if you disagree with them.”

“We need to have the ability to live with difference, and that is the ethnic difference, racial difference, gender difference, but also different political perspectives,” he added. “I have been making that point repeatedly – and I hope that by making it, it becomes real.” 

What making that point means, in practice, for Rees is perhaps best illustrated by his approach to city governance.

Weeks after the toppling of Colston’s statue, a new installation was erected at the same spot featuring Jen Reid, a protester of Black Lives Matter. However, the installation was removed, as “it was the work and decision of a London-based artist, and it was not requested and permission was not given for it to be installed”, Rees said in a statement.

Bristol may appear a prosperous city, logging the highest employment rate among the UK’s “core cities” in the second quarter of 2019. But it is still home to many areas that suffer from social and economic problems: over 70,000 people, about 15 percent of Bristol’s population, live in what are considered the top 10 percent most disadvantaged areas in England. 

In an attempt to combat this inequality, Rees has been involved in a number of projects. He has established Bristol Works, where more than 3,000 young people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are given work experience opportunities. And is now setting up a commission on social mobility. “Launching a Bristol commission on social mobility is not only about social justice; it [should not be] possible for a modern city to leave millions of pounds worth of talent on the shelf, just because the talent was born into poverty,” he says.

The mayor is also a strong supporter of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), explaining that SDGs offer a way to talk about sustainability within a framework of many issues, ranging from climate change and biodiversity to women’s issues, domestic violence, poverty and hunger.

“What we want to achieve as a city cannot be done as a city working alone,” he insists. “We don’t want to benefit only people inside Bristol, we want to benefit the planet, and the SDGs offer a framework for a global conversation,” suggesting that a vehicle should be launched that allows cities to work together, ideally with organisations such as the UN, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund involved. 

Greater collaboration between cities would be “beneficial in terms of economies of scale,” he argues, “as cities could get more competitive prices when buying materials for building houses or ordering buses, rather than each city acquiring a few of them at a higher price.”

In an attempt to focus on the long term, Rees launched One City Plan in January 2019, setting out a number of goals for Bristol to achieve by 2050.

Investing in green infrastructure to meet 2030 carbon emission targets spelled out in the SDGs is a key area here, with the mayor noting that transport, mass transit and energy are important sectors looking for further investment and government funding: “The sooner we meet our targets, the sooner we will benefit from them, and invest in sectors that will provide people with jobs.”

Jobs, especially following the outbreak of Covid-19, are of paramount importance to Rees. Bristol’s council wants to ensure that any government money given to the city will be quickly passed on to businesses to help prevent redundancies, he says, though given that mass job losses seem inevitable, reskilling options are also being looked into, such as through a zero-carbon smart energy project called City Leap.

Another important area for investment in Bristol is affordable housing, with 9,000 homes already built under Rees’s term of office. “People could build a base for life with affordable housing, [and this would mean] their mental health would be better because they have a safe place,” he explains. “Children in families that have a home that is affordable are more likely to able to eat and to heat, [and they are more likely to enjoy a] better education.”

Taken in the round, Rees’s agenda for Bristol is its own blueprint for shaping history. The Colston statue now lies in safe storage, with a local museum likely to play host to the controversial monument. But the Black Lives Matters protestors were fighting for a fairer, more equal future, and it is here where Rees is determined to deliver.

Sofia Karadima is a senior editor at NS Media Group.