Short-term political play threatens long-term gain

24 Jan 2018

Policy area: Residential, Planning

Published this week in Estates Gazette, Chief Executive Melanie Leech discusses the mismatch between short-term politics and our industry’s long-term ambitions. 

We are a long-term industry. Rome wasn’t built in a day – it takes years, if not decades, to bring to fruition the regeneration and development schemes that are transforming our cities and towns, which the country relies on to underpin economic growth and social wellbeing.

Yet, while we look to the future, road mapping cyclical market behaviour and putting plans in place that will deliver prosperity and long-term community gain, the partners we rely on to shape the policy environment and take the key decisions that unlock delivery operate to very different rhythms and drivers.  They work – at best – to planned electoral cycles and sometimes appear to measure success over months rather than years.  

There are some exceptions. Michael Gove’s 25-year environmental plan is a commendable attempt to set an agenda for the longer-term – and one which recognises the need to work together in partnership to ensure that we deliver much-needed investment in our physical fabric in a sustainable way.

In other areas of government policy, however, it seems that short-term drivers are paramount. Whilst most areas in which the Government concerns itself rely on public and private partners working well together in an atmosphere of trust, business has got used to being surprised on Budget day by measures that often seem to put current fiscal gain above the long-term health of the economy. If nothing else, the CGT changes announced last Autumn seem oddly timed given the critical need to continue to attract global capital to the long-term investment projects that for example underpin the regeneration of our high streets, develop the office spaces that will breed innovation and provide the healthcare clinics that will alleviate pressure on the NHS. 

And, take housing. Four prime ministers have collectively appointed a total of 14 different housing minsters during their tenures – with the last, Alok Sharma, barely lasting long enough to meet the industry let alone stamp his mark on the brief. Responsibility for housing seems to have become a Ministerial revolving door that has left the housing sector almost continuously re-telling its story and adapting to new relationships and emphases in policy. 

There is an obvious consequence. Over the past 25 years, governments have consistently fallen short in delivering the housing numbers we need, and the current target of 300,000 a year seems particularly ambitious when you realise that the previous target, set in 2007, of 240,000 new homes each year was never reached. The closest the Government came to this was back in 2006-07 with 219,000 new homes built.  

This is not a criticism of individuals – there have been a number of strong Housing Ministers who have gone on to greater things in political terms. But, in an area crying out for long-term focus, it’s hard to see that so many changes of personality is helpful. There are some reasons to be encouraged, however. Sajid Javid remains as the newly titled Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government – and the addition of Housing to his title, plus the Prime Minister’s personal interventions on housing over the last few months, have made it clear that housing is a Government priority, not just a single Minister’s responsibility. 

We also have a strategy set out in the Housing White Paper, which signals a real change in emphasis towards increasing supply across all tenures and offers tangible support for the build-to-rent sector as a significant contribution to achieving that objective. The Government also plans a Green Paper on social housing – another indication that it recognises the need for action across all tenures.

Undoubtedly, our new Planning and Housing Minister Dominic Raab has the political wind in his sails – and the BPF looks forward to working with him, hopefully for some time to come!