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Government / Local politics

What will Theresa May's housing policy be?

A week is a long time in politics; two weeks is an eternity. 

After the UK voted to leave the European Union, Prime Minister David Cameron felt his position was untenable and the process of finding a new leader began. Given how fast politics moves these days, it will come as no surprise to learn that the country will have a new prime minister by Wednesday evening, in the form of Theresa May.

At the time of writing, the details of a May government are yet to be provided. But do we have any indication as to the impact on planning and housing policy?

In a speech delivered before it was announced that she would become the new Conservative leader and Prime Minister, Theresa May provided an insight into her feelings on housing. Many commentators were surprised by the breadth and complexity highlighted:

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“Unless we deal with the housing deficit, we will see house prices keep on rising.  Young people will find it even harder to afford their own home.  The divide between those who inherit wealth and those who don’t will become more pronounced.”

These are encouraging words. They seem to show a recognition that we need to build more homes; that people are being priced out of owning their own home; and that some people are able to accrue assets while many others cannot.

May also makes a very interesting link between housing costs and economic productivity. This could set the scene to better understand the link between housing costs and local economic performance:

“And more and more of the country’s money will go into expensive housing instead of more productive investments that generate more economic growth.”

A strong supporter of Theresa May’s leadership bid has been the current housing and planning minister, Brandon Lewis. Speaking before the announcement that Theresa May would become the next Prime Minister, he stated:

“Whoever the Prime Minister is, we have to stay true to the manifesto we launched last year, which had two key housing policies: starter homes and extending the Right to Buy to 1.3m people. There’s no reason that would change.”

This message should be unsurprising, for four reasons. First, the Conservative Party continues to have a mandate to deliver on their manifesto promises from 2015. There is no constitutional requirement for there to be another general election if the Prime Minister steps down, and maintaining substantial parts of its election manifesto helps to underpin the party’s democratic and political rationale for not going to the country.

Secondly, the direction of travel for housing policy has been made very clear, and agreed by Parliament. The Housing & Planning Bill became an Act just in May this year; the plethora of consultations and regulations that need to be discussed, debated and agreed are already in motion and various housing policy objectives have been announced. There would be little incentive to change the direction of this complicated and wide-ranging policy reform now.


Thirdly, with a great deal of high-level political attention to be focused on managing the process of Brexit itself, the fact that housing and planning policy already has its key principles established means that DCLG civil servants are in the encouraging position of being able to continue work on the details of implementation – through revisions to the NPPF, the PPG, and the regulations that will bring into force the Housing & Planning Act’s measures – all with a view to putting in place the changes over the coming months.

Finally, in the face of economic uncertainty, there is a strong case for the government doing everything it can to maintain “business as usual” for housing supply and investment. Indeed, since the government saw these housing and planning reforms as crucial to stimulate development and drive economic growth before the referendum, they will now see them as an imperative to ensure economic stability.

It therefore seems that, despite the political upheaval and looming economic uncertainty, Theresa May’s government will want to emphasise the role of housing, development and planning, ensure that policy reform continues to happen and do everything it can to promote stability. As this is a policy area that has seen huge change in the last few years, some stability would no doubt be welcomed by most in the sector.

Joe Sarling is associate director of planning consultancy Nathanial Lichfield & Partners. This article was originally posted on the firm’s blog

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