Gove moves into housing hot seatOwen Mitchell
Last week Michael Gove was appointed UK Housing Secretary, moving from his roles as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office in the latest cabinet reshuffle. Upon his appointment Gove renamed The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) which will, according to the government, help deliver on the mission to “level up every part of the UK”.
It’s difficult to look at Gove’s appointment and conclude that housing has become less important to the government. The new Housing Secretary is one of the most recognisable politicians in the UK having held ministerial positions for all but 11 months since the 2010 election, most notably as Education Secretary from 2010-14 and Environment Secretary 2017-19.
DLUHC has been beefed-up to reflect its extended remit with the appointments of new Minister of State Kemi Badenoch MP and Parliamentary Under-Secretary Neil O’Brien MP. The ministers will work alongside the reappointed Housing Minister Christopher Pincher MP and Building Safety Minister Lord Greenhalgh, as well as Parliamentary Under-Secretary Eddie Hughes MP.
Commentators describe Gove himself as an intellectual. He was the founding chair of the Policy Exchange, the conservative think-tank behind large chunks of this government’s planning policies. As a member of the Cameroon Notting Hill set, Gove served as Shadow Minister for Housing between 2005 and 2007 and when standing for the Conservative leadership in 2017 and 2019 used housebuilding as a cornerstone of his campaigns.
Housing will pose Gove’s trickiest challenge to date and will require a willingness to be unpopular. Luckily Gove is, to put it mildly, not shy of making enemies, and has reputation for pushing through bold reforms in the face of opposition. At times this has made him incredibly unpopular, but the policies he has implemented have largely endured.
Last year, Jenrick drew up a radical white paper that outlined the biggest shake-up in the planning system in England for decades, promising to catalyse the building of at least 300,000 new homes annually.
The original proposals were backed by some Tory MPs in the so-called “red wall” of former Labour seats, but they also prompted a backlash by scores of Tory MPs in the party’s own traditional heartland of southern England over fears it would allow developers to build on the greenbelt. Gove’s arrival in the department has put a further hold on the reforms and it is widely predicted that they will now be watered down when published, although this is not guaranteed.
The new Housing Secretary faces some substantial challenges – with planning in the air, amendments to the Building Safety Bill and promises of reform from rental tenancy to leasehold. Gove possesses the expertise, intellect, and determination to succeed – only time will tell if this optimism is justified.