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Opinion piece: Hung parliament musn’t hang housing

Solving the housing crisis won’t happen quickly – so plenty of time needs to be given to one housing minister, in Cabinet

The surprising UK election result of a hung parliament has big implications for the property market.

Let’s start with the positives. While the election campaign was not generally an inspiring affair, we can take cheer from the fact the issues faced by the property market were given such focus. All of the main parties were very clear about how crucial it was to address the housing crisis – albeit their suggested solutions were significantly different.

While the Conservatives pledged to work with “ambitious, pro-development” local authorities to increase housing production,

Labour promised to dramatically ramp up the number of affordable homes produced each year.

As for the Liberal Democrats, their manifesto included a plan to establish a Housing and Infrastructure Development Bank, which would ensure funding to produce 300,000 new homes.

So all the parties are well aware of how important the housing issue is to the nation at large, and that voters want to see it resolved soon. The time for talking is over.

Lack of relief

Ordinarily, there would be relief that the election campaign was finished; uncertainty and the property market make uneasy bedfellows. Homebuyers and investors alike tend to hold off making a move when there are questions about what the future holds. It was a similar story this time last year with the Brexit vote, which prompted many within the property market to adopt a wait-and-see approach.

Most would have hoped for a clear result either way in the election, in order to see housing activity kick on, but the hung parliament has created even more uncertainty.

High turnover

Another unfortunate development is that the tradition of a high turnover among housing ministers is set to continue, with Gavin Barwell having lost his seat in Croydon Central.

There have been 14 housing ministers since 1997, each given barely enough time to get a grip on the brief before they were shuffled into another role. It is little wonder major progress still needs to be made in the area. Solving the housing crisis will take time, so plenty of time needs to be given to a single housing minister – last week named as Alok Sharma.

The days of the housing brief being seen as a stepping stone to more glamorous roles within government ranks must end. The minister should be required to hold on to the role for at least a five-year term.

It is also disappointing that the role of housing minister does not merit a place in the full Cabinet. This must change too. Housing should be a full department in its own right, not merely a small section of the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Interestingly, this was proposed by Labour in its manifesto. Promoting the housing brief to a full Cabinet post would be a huge statement of intent, demonstrating the Government’s commitment to tackle the issue.

It would also mean housing had a proper voice at the highest level of government; a place at the table when it comes to the big discussions. There is a huge crossover between housing and issues such as transport and employment, so it is only right the housing minister has a say.

Tackling the problems in the housing market must be a priority for the Government.

Let’s hope the new housing minister is finally given the backing to do so.

Matthew Tooth is chief commercial officer at LendInvest

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