Javid shifted focus onto housing delivery but successor must hit the ground running, by John Geoghegan

The planning sector has become used to change at the housing ministry. But the appointment of James Brokenshire as housing secretary - the third to lead the department since 2016 - has still come as a surprise to many.

His predecessor Sajid Javid leaves after less than two years, having been appointed in July 2016 when Theresa May became Prime Minister. Javid certainly oversaw plenty of change during his tenure. The 2017 housing white paper was a key milestone, as was March’s draft revised National Planning Policy Framework, which had been years in the making. There was also last September’s consultation on a new standard housing need method as well as the threat to intervene on local plans. How can we judge his legacy?

Housing has certainly risen high up the government’s agenda on his watch. Through measures such as the new housing delivery test, Javid has shifted councils’ focus onto delivery, while the standard assessment method could see supply rise sharply in many areas. He also turned the screw on local authorities that have been too slow to get their local plans in place with his threatened intervention. The Tories’ previous dogmatic obsession with home ownership has been diluted, with measures to support delivery across all tenures, particularly the fledgling build-to-rent sector.

It could be argued that the government’s new focus on housing – which included the rebranding of Javid’s role and department – was a response to Labour’s success in campaigning on the issue. But Javid brought a new energy to Tory rhetoric on the issue, pledging to boost housing levels and to take on vested interests that were blocking new homes. He also frequently made the moral case for solving the housing crisis. Along with the previous housing minister Gavin Barwell, Javid recognised that it was not just councils that needed to up their game on housing delivery. In a new departure for a Tory minister, he also turned his fire on developers, much to their disquiet, and on local politicians who duck tough decisions.

While tributes from the development sector have largely been positive, others are less glowing, pointing to an increase in centralising measures, such as the delivery test. It is also too early to judge the long-term impact of initiatives introduced under Javid on increasing planning permissions and housing completions. Though it does appear that the threat of intervention prompted some of the 15 councils concerned to speed up their local plan production, the threat of taking over their plan processes has yet to be followed through. As we point out in this issue, the outgoing secretary of state has also regularly failed to meet his own decision deadlines. And there was widespread disappointment at the lack of the promised radical measures in the white paper.

More fundamentally, the change in housing secretary, along with the revolving door of housing ministers, has led many in the built environment sector to question whether the government really is committed to solving the housing crisis. It is essential that Brokenshire is able to get up to speed quickly in order to provide the consistent leadership required to deliver the homes and infrastructure the country desperately needs.

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