Going French

In her first speech as Prime Minister, Theresa May described the lack of affordable housing as one of the 'burning injustices' this country currently faces.

To try and address the issue she has appointed Gavin Barwell as Housing Minister. Aged 44 Barwell holds one of the most marginal seats in the country with a majority of just 165.

Barwell’s appointment should reassure developers and planning authorities alike and see a marked improvement in the Government's record in enabling and encouraging house building as well as an increase in direct government intervention.

Gavin Barwell | Image credit:  Evening Standard
Gavin Barwell | Image credit: Evening Standard

Like the Prime Minister who appointed him, Mr Barwell has a local government background, having served as a councillor on Croydon from 1998 to 2010 and as PPS to Greg Clark when he was minister for cities and decentralisation. From this experience Barwell should have a good understanding of the planning pressures and challenges that councils face, both in plan-making and determining applications.   

His track record as a local MP, successfully attracting Westfield and Hammerson to Croydon, as well as significant government investment following the riots five years ago, demonstrates an ability to work with business and government and a good understanding of the importance of delivering community benefits.

Despite Gavin Barwell’s earlier concerns about the Government's commitment to extend the right to buy to Housing Association tenants we should expect this policy to remain. We can also expect greater government intervention with direct commissioning of development being escalated.

The recent statement around fracking profits being shared directly to affected residents and communities may also be an early trailblazer for an approach to housing development.  Mrs May knows from personal experience in her own constituency that residents often view new development as a threat to their quality of life. In the south east of England, where the housing crisis is most acute, some form of direct compensation - possibly modelled on the French Government's approach - may help to break down often stiff resistance.

Barwell will be aware that delivering on housing is a huge challenge that has beaten Blair, Brown and to an extent Cameron. Given his dogged determination, impressive campaigning skills and record of defying the political odds, I suspect the PM has got her man.

This article was written by Frank Browne.