British politics and policy updates
Join myFT Daily Digest to be the first to know about UK politics and policy news.
Michael Gove, the new cabinet minister in charge of housing and setting up the agenda, set the British government flagship planning reforms thwartedwhich creates further uncertainty for the real estate industry.
Gove, appointed to lead the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in Boris Johnson’s large shake of his top team earlier this week, he tackled two of the most difficult issues in the government’s tray: housing reform and tackling local inequality.
The new cabinet met for the first time on Friday, where the prime minister delivered a ‘half-time pep talk’ about the need to focus on improving public services, Downing Street said, citing Johnson’s uproar. be intensifying preparations for the next general election. Gove’s extensive ministry will be responsible for much of the agenda.
Those familiar with Gove’s thinking said he intended to use his new portfolio to pursue a ‘relentless focus on families and communities that are not valued’ – referring to the themes of a lecture he gave last summer on ‘the forgotten man”What Brexit supported in 2016.
Housing will be its most difficult challenge. Last year, his predecessor Robert Jenrick drafted a radical white paper it would have led to the biggest fluctuation in the planning system in England for decades. The reforms are intended to facilitate the construction of at least 300,000 new homes annually, with many younger people in the UK struggling to buy their first home after years of rising house prices.
The changes would have forced all councils to draw up ten-year plans with all land designated in one of three ways: protected, renewal or growth. In growth zones, any proposal that complies with the local ‘design code’ would have been blown away without the need for specific planning permission.
The original proposals were supported by some Tory MPs the so-called “red wall” of the former Labor seats, as it would free up unused sites for rapid redevelopment. But they also have a setback by numerous Tory MPs in the party’s own traditional heart of the South of England who threatened to vote against the proposals for fear it would enable developers to build on the green belt.
Jenrick would announce early next week that he is moving forward with many of the proposals, while diluting the most controversial element. Among the compromise proposals would have been the ‘growth zones’ with a presumption rather than automatic consent for development to ‘growth areas’.
But Gove’s arrival in the department further hampered the reforms. “As you might expect, as the new foreign minister in a new department, he is taking time to review proposals and engage constructively with colleagues,” an ally said. “It’s interrupted.”
An indication of Gove’s likely approach was when he appointed Neil O’Brien, MP for Harborough – one of the most prominent rebels against the proposals – as one of his junior ministers. O’Brien has called for a thoughtful and careful handling of the reforms.
Andrew Whitaker, planning director of the Federation of Home Builders, said Jenrick’s defenestration was clearly intended to give space to the planning.
“But I’m not convinced they’re going to throw everything away,” he said. “The problems with the planning system identified in the white paper continue to exist – in any case, it’s worse than last year,” he said.
The other challenge for Gove is to explain and deliver Johnson’s leveling agenda, which aims to address local inequalities. The prime minister complained that many in the government did not understand his key platform, and so he turned to the man who helped deliver the 2016 Brexit vote with him and then became infamous. block his path immediately thereafter to Downing Street.
Johnson’s allies said Gove ‘is the only person who has enough knowledge of Whitehall to get a grip’.
The importance of this agenda for the Tories’ re-election hope explains why Gove was willing to go to a ministry traditionally regarded as a backbone. One government insider said the agenda is now ‘Johnson’s defining mission’.
The new department of Gove is another challenge for one of the few Conservative Party ministers with a proven track record of reform. One aid worker who worked with him said: “Whether in education, the environment, the judiciary or the cabinet, Michael has learned how to do things.”
One well-placed Whitehall official suggested Gove was eager for a new challenge after overseeing the civil service reform and tackling the cabinet’s coronavirus pandemic.
“Do you remember how he delivered education reforms and at the same time reduced staff by a quarter?” they said, referring to his time as education secretary. “Or [when justice secretary] how did he win the tough judges? He makes the weather. ”
In its extensive ministry, Gove has also brought together responsibilities of the Cabinet Office for the protection of the integrity of the UK and liaison with the administrations of the delegated nations.
Those with knowledge of his thinking have said he intends to use his new responsibilities of local government to advance the cause for the Union. A senior Tory MP said: ‘Michael can use the local government to send money directly to the people of Scotland and show them the value of the Union.
With its greater focus, Gove’s new ministry is expected to undergo a new brand. One government official predicted that Gove would create “a new and unexpected super division of Whitehall”.
The official added: ‘Gove will quickly find out if sniffing key officials, and replace those who do not cut the mustard. . . officials will find that he is absorbing underpants at an alarming rate. ”
Some in Westminster have speculated that this could be Gove’s last major role in government, having entered the cabinet in 2010. After two failed leadership messages, those who work with him said he “has no aspirations for the top job”. But they believed he would remain in government for years to come. “He is serving in the prime minister’s pleasure,” one said.