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Does housing belong in cabinet or should it be a cross-party issue?

Take housing out of government control says Glynis Frew

The government is beginning to view the importance of housing in the context of national prosperity more so than ever before.

Encouraging proposals were announced at the Budget and just this week it was confirmed that housing would at long last have meaningful cabinet representation, for which Sajid Javid should be congratulated; he has always been proactive in his approach to industry consultation.

While we should find comfort in these developments, housing is yet to achieve a consistent and long term strategy. Housing needs to escape the confines of partisan party politics if it is to be fully addressed and policy executed correctly, and it is my belief that a taskforce of industry and political figures should take the reins.

There could be long term strategies of around 10 years at a time, something that could not be afforded by a government of the day.

The last few decades have seen housing progress strangled by the battles that take hold in Westminster. Short term, ideological, vote seeking measures have been dogmatically implemented in favour of a long term, meaningful strategy that draws upon political neutrality and the knowledge and experience of industry leaders.

We’ve seen 16 housing ministers in the space of just 20 years, along with competing government initiatives that come and go with limited success and longevity.

Housing should be taken out of central government control and replaced by a group of industry figures alongside politicians of cross party persuasions. It would establish meaningful measures and a long term strategy via productive debates with empirical support, drawing influences from a variety of political agendas and industry stakeholders.

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A non-party political leader could be appointed to oversee operations and execute the plans. There could be long term strategies of around 10 years at a time, something that could not be afforded by a government of the day.

This body could shape the new regulatory environment, it could tackle the Housing White Paper, the social housing Green Paper and the growing scourge of homelessness, and it would offer long term alternative options without being sabotaged by political allegiances.

I would like to see it enforce a minimum ‘Property Standard’ as well as policies for a more diverse stock of new properties. New build priorities would reflect the various demographics of our society, which require upsizer family homes and downsizer later life homes as much as first time buyer apartments; it would provide for rural communities as much as the cities. Long term strategies can be designed to prepare for the future much further than the next General Election.

The industry is undergoing rapid change; the rise of online portals, increased rental demand, or the changing nature of housing associations are just a few examples. There are many ways in which public policy needs to keep pace to match this and short term actions are not the answer.

A holistic, long term strategy spearheaded by industry leaders and complemented by political figures must accompany this change. It would require a leap of faith from central government and political parties alike but the prize of providing a long-term commitment on housing would be a prize worth working for.

Housing is finally being taken seriously say James Pargeter

Opinion polls consistently rank housing-related concerns right up there with the NHS and education. Housing was clearly a factor in last year’s General Election, and the Government has since insisted that it is not only an issue they recognise, but will tackle effectively and urgently. However, the challenges are varied, complex and considerable, and affect a broad spectrum of society.

Eight years ago, David Cameron demoted housing by deciding that the then Housing Minister should no longer attend cabinet. That decision was seemingly reversed this week with relatively little fuss, simply by adding ‘Housing’ to the Sajid Javid’s job title – albeit while he remains in cabinet and ultimately responsible for housing.

With Brexit dominating foreign policy and constraining many domestic policy initiatives, housing is an area where the government can still make real progress.

While it is tempting to dismiss the move as little more than a government rebranding exercise, I want to take a more optimistic view. Being explicit about housing regaining cabinet status is both consistent with recent government efforts to tackle the housing crisis, and signals determination for this to continue. Given the clear importance of housing to the electorate, it is also a move that should chime with popular opinion.

But what does housing’s new-found status mean in practical terms? Well at the very least we can expect housing issues to be driven from the highest level of government. With Brexit dominating foreign policy and constraining many domestic policy initiatives, housing is an area where the government can still make real progress.

With the launch of the Housing White Paper, and the repercussions of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, Javid and his team were important instigators of housing reform in 2017. By widening the scope of his brief, we can expect his efforts to be ratcheted up another notch this year.

Are new initiatives or policies on the horizon? Difficult to predict, but the Secretary of State and his new Housing Minister will already have firm targets on housebuilding and numerous existing policy initiatives to implement in order to reform the ‘broken’ market.

We have seen a welcome shift in government approach to support tenures other than conventional homeownership. This pragmatic move reflects a wider, cultural change in society – mature rental markets internationally prove that professionally managed rental housing has broad intergenerational appeal.

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By maintaining this direction, Javid can also rely on continued investment in rental housing at historically unprecedented levels. The ‘Build to Rent’ movement is bringing new ideas, innovations and disruptors to rental housing and a quiet revolution is underway in major conurbations across the country, as global institutions invest billions in purpose-built, well-managed rental developments.

A better functioning, quality rental market will play a big part in easing pressures on the increasingly polarised housing market.

I believe 2018 will be an exciting year for housing, now that the simple binary assumptions of renting for the young and home ownership for everyone else are changing. This, plus housing’s active reinforcement within cabinet, are positive indicators of systematic and fundamental improvement.

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