As Boris takes the summer to come to terms with his new job, what lies ahead for the industry in the Autumn when normal service (whatever 'normal' means anymore) resumes. Taking aside the hugely complex task of delivering a Brexit that suits not only his divided party but an even more divided nation, what is in store for the development industry.
One of Boris's first tasks was to completely refresh the cabinet, with a few exceptions such as Matt Hancock staying as health secretary. There isn’t much previous form to go on for the new incumbents in Robert Jenrick as new secretary of state for housing, communities and local government and Esther McVey as his housing minister but one can only think of the going as Good to Soft. What we do know is that it has been very much a revolving door for ministers in this department in recent years. Jenrick is the fourth housing secretary in four years. McVey is the ninth housing minister to hold the role since 2010. However, once again for this industry we are back to a new set of ministers and uncertainty on direction of polices for a number of key issues.
In a recent piece on the 'Conservative Home' website Jenrick issued a call to all local authorities to appoint a 'Brexit Lead'.
I am asking all local councils in England to appoint a Brexit lead, who will work hand in hand with me and my team in central government to plan for our exit on 31st October, with or without a deal. Because taking back control doesn’t just apply to Westminster; we are going to thrive after Brexit and it will mean local people taking more responsibility for their communities.
Nothing on planning yet though……
On the back of the 'Boris Bounce' our new Prime Minister has suggested that infrastructure investment should be once again focused on the northern parts of England in reinvigorating the 'Northern Powerhouse' narrative started by George Osbourne before Brexit properly kicked that can down the road. In one of his early speeches BoJo said:
"I want to be the PM who does with Northern Powerhouse Rail what we did with Crossrail in London."
I take it he is not referring to delivering a major piece of infrastructure years late and millions over budget, more the refocussing of investment on those parts of our country who might benefit most.
Of all the new guard, Boris is probably the one who has most previous 'form' in our industry from his spell as Mayor of London. During that time called in no less than 17 applications, every one of which was granted. We also know that he was a staunch protector of the green belt in London and we can only presuppose that he will continue to apply this now. One interesting aspect will see how Johnson manages his conflict over his government's desire to see the expansion of Heathrow happen and Boris's own pledge at his victory speech for his parliamentary place in Uxbridge to 'lie down in front of the bulldozers' for Heathrow when the day comes.
Boris knows that changes to the planning system and boosting housebuilding is in the 'difficult' pile on his desk but he has already signalled his intention to review planning rules. He knows that a 'no deal' Brexit is likely to put the brakes on an already struggling housebuilding industy, even more so with end of 'help to buy' in 2023 not far away in development terms. Boris has hinted a significant change in the stamp duty regime which would certainly help but at this stage the details are somewhat lacking.
Perhaps as an industry we should be taking some comfort from the appointment of Sir Edward Lister as Boris's chief of staff. 'Steady Eddie', as Boris likes to call him was previously chairman of Homes England and spent significant time with him in City Hall. Lister knows the complexities of the housing crisis better than most and perhaps he will make sure that at least some of the resources of No 10 go towards planning reform rather than all going towards the Brexit effort. Time will tell.