The recently-passed Neighbourhood Planning Bill could require councils to have an adopted local plan. During the course of its progress through Parliament, Gavin Barwell said that the Government expects “authorities to have plans in place by early next year”. Anyone who is listening to this debate can be clear that there is a clear deadline to get this work done”. Given the sensitivities of Conservative MPs about housebuilding, and the Government’s thin majority in the Commons, a major revolt might have been expected over the proposal. But Barwell and Sajid Javid got it through without one.
Which is evidence that Javid, who unlike his predecessors since 2010 came to the Communities department without previous experience of local government, none the less grasps the sensitivies. Theresa May should bear this in mind when mulling his plans for housing. He clearly believes that her aim of building more homes cannot be realised without finding more land for them to be built on – a conclusion which should be entirely unsurprising.
As she herself put it in the major launch speech of her leadership election, “we need to do far more to get more houses built. Because 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. And more and more of the country’s money will go into expensive housing instead of more productive investments that generate more economic growth”. It could not have been clearer.
There are claims that May, having first set her aim out and then appointed Javid to implement it, now has cold feet. It is inevitable that the practicalities of getting the Goverment’s business through Parliament will be a Downing Street preoccupation. But the Communities Secretary’s plans will come in the form of a White Paper, precisely for this reason. And many of the adjustments he wants won’t need primary legislation.
We await the detail. But the political choice for the Prime Minister is straightforward. That her government proceeds more deliberately than David Cameron’s did is a good thing – not only because there is less risk of backbench revolt, but because one is likely to get better legislation. The glory of White Papers is that they can be prodded and tweaked. But there is none the less a bottom line. She was surely serious about getting more homes built. Since this is so, it follows that she must back the man she appointed to do the job that she asked him to do.