Gavin Barwell: A Minister on a mission?

The Minister of State for Housing & Planning, Gavin Barwell MP, could be forgiven for taking a few days off this week. Having embarked on a tour boldly entitled Fixing the Broken Housing Market last week, including seven ‘gigs’ in seven days; he may well need to rest his voice, gather his thoughts and double-down on his mission to get the country building enough houses.

Like a teen super-fan I was able to attend a couple of the events to hear what Barwell had to say and take the temperature of the audience. Having been generally underwhelmed by the contents of the Housing White Paper, I was reassured by the minister’s sense of mission and determination to fix a problem that the Prime Minister has identified as a central part of her strategy to help the JAMs (those families who are just about managing).

It is rare to hear a politician looking beyond the immediate horizon but Barwell clearly sees there is a need for long term reform of the housing market, alongside short term supply-side innovations that could provide an immediate impact.

Barwell is also a minister who clearly understands the detail of his brief. During the events he shunned the protection of the podium, ditched the comfort of a speech and instead subjected himself to hours of wide-ranging questions from industry professionals, local councillors and community activists. Only a minister with the confidence of knowing their subject would put themselves through such an ordeal. And he handled the questioning with aplomb.

Did he say anything new? Not really. Yes, there will be a revised NPPF published in the summer and yes, there could be changes to the way that Local Housing Allowance is reformed to help the supported housing sector.  But I don’t think that was the point. Instead, the minister used the events to add some mood music to the Housing White Paper and set the context within which it was drafted.

And that was enough to make the tour worthwhile. Local Authorities should be in no doubt that they need to plan better and quicker than before. Investors now know that PRS and build-to-rent are clear opportunities that Government is looking to support and housebuilders should take notice of the expectation that the minister has to see them build.

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