Diary: Malthouse entertains the fringe

Spare a thought for housing minister Kit Malthouse who attended no less than 15 fringe events over three days at the Conservative Party conference last week.

As the 18th housing minister in 20 years and the third this year, he told a few jokes about the revolving door at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). Among them were: "Housing ministers don’t last very long. So if the phone goes half-way through and someone else appears at the door, I’ll wrap up quickly." Another was: "So I’m Kit Malthouse, I’m the housing minister this week."

The minister also had some interesting observations about the troubled relationship between councils and developers, suggesting that a marriage guidance counsellor may be a more effective way to boost British housing delivery than tweaking planning policies. He told a fringe event organised by the Bright Blue think tank: "I’m starting to realise, 12 weeks in, that the development community and the local authority community are like an old couple who’ve been married for a long time, and whose marriage is not quite functioning the way it should. There’s a lot of squabbling and a lot of pointing of fingers."

One of Malthouse’s predecessors in MHCLG, former communities minister Bob Neill, made a brutally honest admission about the effectiveness of the duty to cooperate at an event organised by the Royal Town Planning Institute. Neill said he was part of the ministerial team that scrapped regional spatial strategies in 2010 and replaced it with the duty, which he conceded "was not delivering in the way that we hoped". Neill said he and John Howell MP "sweated blood" to work out the duty, often staying up late at "very long meetings" that were "fortified by a bottle of whiskey". "That may explain how it came out," he added. 

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