Housing experts offer up ten priorities for the new housing secretary

In the week that the government appointed its fourth housing secretary since 2015, a list of 10 priorities have been formulated for Conservative MP James Brokenshire.

The new secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, replaces Sajid Javid who has been appointed as home secretary. 

The former Northern Ireland secretary stepped down from the role in January for health reasons, but now returns to the cabinet. A former partner at the law firm Jones Day, Brokenshire served as a junior minister in the Home Office for all six years of Theresa May’s tenure as home secretary, from 2010 and 2016.

Brokenshire has said he is “honoured” to take up the role and is looking forward to “taking the government’s agenda forward especially on building the homes our country needs.” 

He takes over a department whose recent rebranding to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government was widely interpreted as the government trying to demonstrate their commitment to housing policy. 

But in the wake of the latest appointment, real estate lawyers at law firm Irwin Mitchell have come up with a list of priorities to try and solve the housing crisis.

These include:

  1. Use the tax system to encourage self- build and off-site construction
  2.  Properly review the failure to replace Council houses sold off under the Right to Buy legislation on a one for one basis.
  3. Impose a standard three-day response time for local authorities to supply local search results – a primary cause of delays in the conveyancing process.
  4.  Rethink Stamp Duty and Land Tax. At these levels it has killed off movement, making house owners stay put, not releasing stock back into the market.
  5.  Crackdown on quality- Review the National House Building Council and other warranty providers. Many do not provide anything like the service they promise.
  6.  Amend the National Planning Policy Framework to include a positive duty on councils to plan for providing enough retirement living and care home accommodation.
  7. Stop taxing house-building with affordable housing levies (if the state wants to provide affordable housing, it should pay for it, allowing state bodies to borrow against future rental streams.
  8. Abolish Community Infrastructure Levy
  9. Bring in a right to a fast track appeals against overly onerous planning obligations, and overly numerous planning conditions; and enable approved planning consultancies to approve applications for the discharge of planning conditions.
  10. Continue to explore the advantages of proper leasehold reform- don’t mothball this now. Continue to explore the advantages of proper leasehold reform -  don’t mothball this now – but ensure that the reforms are fair to all stakeholders.

But more fundamentally is ensuring stability, according to Adrian Barlow, head of real estate at Irwin Mitchell. “James Brokenshire needs to stay in the job for long enough to make a difference," said Barlow. "There have been 16 ministers of state for Housing in the last 20 years, including Gavin Barwell, Alok Sharma and Dominic Raab within the last 12 months. Brokenshire needs to bring stability to the team.

"Housebuilding has risen since the lows reached during the financial crisis of a decade ago but needs to almost double to hit the government’s target of 300,000 new homes a year by the middle of the next decade. At the moment it looks unlikely we will meet this. Unless something is radically done to improve the planning system, to provide more incentives for construction and to re-look at how the tax regime can be better used to encourage development and movement in the market, I don’t think we’ll get very far.”

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