Frustration and scepticism were evident in our experts’ summaries of the current situation at the top of Government.
Following the announcement of a Conservative party leadership contest after the resignation of Boris Johnson, we asked our partners and contacts their views on the state of play and how it affects the property and planning worlds.
Many were outspoken with their thoughts on what the situation means for longstanding problems of the system.
David Jones, managing director of Evans Jones, said: “A week is a long time in politics. No truer than the past week. Speaking to all of my clients, without exception, all considered Boris’ time was up.
“From a planning perspective, uncertainty will continue whilst a new leader and cabinet is formed. With the Housing Minster (Stuart Andrew) resigning and Secretary of State for Levelling Up (Michael Gove) being sacked, it leaves a caretaker minster (Greg Clark) holding the fort.
“The planning reforms promised from Gove this month will undoubtedly be delayed and, yet again, I strongly suspect a new incumbent will, yet again, seek to fiddle and tweak the planning system which continues to be kicked around like an old football. The result is uncertainty and inertia.
“Developers need certainly to plan and manage their business. For too long reform of planning has been promised but little has come to fruition.
“As to the next leader, interestingly Boris, despite all his failings, is a ‘centrist’ within a right leaning cabinet. My hope is that a centrist replaces Boris to maintain balance against some of the more extreme factions within the party.
“Current candidates seem to be promoting a mandate of tax cuts. This seems to me a cynical populist policy to win favour.
“Whilst most businesses would prefer to pay less, we must also accept that the fiscal support provided during the pandemic must be paid for. So I would like to see all who have propped up Boris leave the cabinet, providing an opportunity for a complete reset.”
Jonny Denton, sales manager for Darcliffe Homes, said: “Trying to find a nice thing to say about the Government as a property person is rather tricky.
“It is safe to say, Boris lost the dressing room. I feel we all just hope for a straightforward, genuine and strong leader to step in and LEAD. I think we have all forgotten what a political role model would remotely look like.
“In fairness, when you are constantly being looked at for reasons to be challenged and analysed on your every move, it is difficult to completely understand why anyone would want to do the job in the first place!
“This morning’s news adds another cause for uncertainty to the never ending list over the past five years or so (Brexit, Covid, war, inflation, interest rates, Boris etc, the list goes on).
“Despite this, there has been an incredible boom in the market in the last year. However, I am sensing the first signs of things slowing down – surely a result of the negative and challenging news we are facing on a daily basis. Perhaps another period of sitting on hands is incoming?
“Where this leaves our property world, who knows? One thing is for sure, we need to have some clear directives on the future of housebuilding and some help.
“It is clear the bill for the need for a more eco-friendly world is going to be lumped on the housebuilders, along with rising build costs, the premium of building eco-friendly, horrendous delays in the planning system (with local authorities under staffed and underfunded), soaring land prices.
“I could go on…things are certainly not easy out there.
“My questions are: if the Government made all homeowners change their heating system overnight, there would be grants offered left, right and centre to aid the change.
“Do housebuilders/contractors not deserve the same if we will be carrying the can and setting the tone for change?
“And where is all the electricity going to come from for our heat pumps and electric cars?”
Rob Allaway, managing director of DevComms, said: “There are more leadership contenders than I would have expected, although some of the runners are likely to withdraw from the race fairly early on.
“Rishi Sunak has been doing well in the polls over the weekend but he faces a slew of rivals who are proposing substantial tax cuts. One of the low tax candidates is likely to become a favourite as the candidates are whittled down.
“In property, the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill is on the national political agenda, together with planning reforms.
“Whilst planning always seems to be in some degree of flux, the levelling up (LU) agenda has the potential for significant consequences with some local authorities already using it as a reason to change direction on Local Plans.
“Whilst the LU agenda has been broadly supported, Jeremy Hunt has already criticised its direction, suggesting that we should be focussing on wealth creation instead. So clarity is needed.
“Westminster is ineffective until a new leader is appointed. A swift contest is needed and the winner will need to get a grip on policy issues and discipline very quickly. Fortunately, Conservative leadership contests are usually swift, albeit ruthless.”
Mike Shearn, chief operating officer for Haslams Estate Agent, said: “We all know that markets work best when there is stability and certainty.
“For various reasons, the residential property market has not benefitted from these aspects for some time. Yes, residential property values have performed exceptionally well over the past couple of years, principally because of the disconnect between supply and demand.
“However, house price inflation is not the only key measure of success. Indeed, many view it as the antithesis of success as, in isolation, it doesn’t address the basic problem of people not having a roof over their heads.
“I am sure my wishes are no different to many and they have been voiced before. Essentially, my Utopian view would be that housing is not used as a political football and it would be great if politics could be completely removed from the decision making process (including planning).
“Given that this won’t happen, my next best scenario is that I hope that the political reset will be the catalyst for positive change including a long term vision and roadmap that addresses the housing problem whilst encouraging investment by corporates as well as private investors.
“It probably starts with having fewer Housing Ministers (or whatever the title may be) and joined-up, cross-party thinking, that delivers more new homes of better quality across all tenures.”
Richard Stacey, managing director of Evoke Transport Planning, said: “Unfortunately I think there is a degree of wait-and-see across the board, not just in the property world.
“The Government is in a state of paralysis, presumably until a new leader is selected. Officially Johnson is still Prime Minister for a few more months but surely now this is a position in name only?
“The country will be on hold whilst the Tory party once again resolve their internal divisions. As the leadership candidates vie for position my (admittedly limited) reading to date is that few if any of them are putting property, infrastructure delivery, levelling up, transport or housing at the top of their campaign agendas?
“Leadership candidates should also make clear statements on how they are going to tackle climate change. Any new leader will likely turn their attention to votes and the next General Election; they have a lot of ground to recover.
“I would imagine policies that seek to direct investment to the red wall seats, gained at the last general election – and under significant threat now – will be a focus along with protecting the Tory marginals in the south from blanket housing.
“These are short term ‘populist’ policies to see them to the next General Election whereas what we need for housing, infrastructure and transport are long term, evidence-based thinking rather than policies based on a whim, lies and bluster.”
Brian Dowling and the residential development and housebuilder team at Boyes Turner, told us: “No one will do anything big to address the housing crisis for the next three to six months (although there was no will to reform planning or means to fund more supply anyway).
“The role of Housing Minister will continue to be a sinecure for loyal but junior supporters of the PM from time to time.
“The post has turned into a laughing stock in the housing industry as no one stays in the role for more than a year and they never get given enough power or money.
“Presumably the imbroglio increases the chance of a change in Government, to Labour or Lib-Lab.
“There have been 12 years of Conservative or coalition Government and it’s a reasonable bet that the ruling party will change. This could lead to an increase in taxation of profits from the sale of land (or a tougher view on ‘value capture’) on the one hand, but could also lead to more investment in housing and property on the other.”
Helen Todd, managing director of Stubbings Property Marketing, said: “There is no doubt that the current changes taking place within our Government will have an unsettling impact on the public and as a result, our industry.
“Amidst rising interest rates and the general increase in the cost of living, home buyers are going to be approaching any future move or first home purchase with uncertainty. With schemes such as Help to Buy due to come to an end later this year, the new homes industry now needs to pull together and to look at new ways to assist future buyers onto the housing ladder.
“We are currently taking part in a pilot for the Government’s new First Homes scheme at a development where we are selling in Slough. This has already proved hugely popular and has been very successful in assisting local first time buyers onto the ladder. I believe it is schemes such as these which will prove even more crucial as we look to the future.”
Image: Boris Johnson after winning the 2019 General Election. UK Government, OGL 3 <http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/3>, via Wikimedia Commons.
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