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Michael Gove’s Wasted Opportunity

Talk about a wasted opportunity.

The Conservative party conference - just finished, and possibly the last one before a General Election - would have been the perfect opportunity for the government to be assertive about housing.

Instead, Housing Secretary Michael Gove - who is a diligent Cabinet member, detailed in his knowledge of his responsibilities - came out with the same old, same old.

Every family should have a safe and decent home, he said - and who would disagree?

There should be more homes and they should be carbon neutral and energy efficient and good looking, he said - and who would disagree?

There should be more building on brownfield sites and more effort to regenerate town centres beset with desolate high streets - and who would disagree?

If only there had been a government in place for 12 years to have done all these things….oh, hold on.

Herein lies the rub, possibly for all politicians but certainly for the Conservatives: they have had the chance to do these things and they are now reaping the price for having failed. Not just failed to achieve, but often having failed to even try.

There was no mention of housebuilding targets which have been imposed and then removed for reasons connected with NIMBY backbenchers. There was no mention of the Renters Reform Bill, introduced and possibly sidelined because of other backbenchers.

Repeatedly promised

And there wasn’t even more than a passing reference to Gove’s own highly successful work on a string of policies and developer contributions ensuring no repeat of the Grenfell tragedy. Gove has improved safety in high-rise homes in a way no previous Housing Secretary has managed, yet that’s not deemed important enough to reference.

It goes without saying, of course, that there was no mention of building 300,000 new homes a year, as pledged in the party’s 2019 manifesto; no mention, too, of the planning-lite development zones, also pledged in 2019. And no mention of the increase in social housing building programme, repeatedly promised by government in recent years.

No mention, too, of the long-term plan to improve the housing stock’s energy efficiency now that the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards have been watered down; and what about the government’s past promise to look into the efficacy of Energy Performance Certificates - no mention of that, of course.

Natural habitats

Instead, in Gove’s speech this week there was a feeling of laziness and complacency with more time for slapstick than substance.

He promised to stop Labour "taking our fields, meadows, and forests away from our children”, insisting that: "We're not just the party of opportunity and ownership, we're the party of beauty and nature. That is why we will resist the proposals of the Labour party, and now the Lib Dems too, to build all over the green belt and destroy precious natural habitats. Labour must not be allowed to take our fields, meadows and forests away from our children. And we will stop them."

All good knock about stuff but how does that square with Rishi Sunak’s comments a day later when he told the conference that the public was fed up of politicians promising but not delivering?

This isn’t a party political point: Labour will, no doubt, be rich on promises at its party conference, in the luxurious position of not having to deliver, at least for a year or so.

But if there was ever a time to treat the public as grown-ups, giving specifics on government plans for more and better homes at affordable costs if it won the next election, then this week’s conference was it.

A wasted opportunity indeed - and perhaps a spent force in charge.

  • Proper Estate Agent

    Whatever they say will never happen, the issue is over population which the snakes have actively encourage with the help of boats. Don't trust the 3 main parties.

  • James Tucker

    Great piece, Graham - all very good points. As an Energy and Retrofit Assessor the scaling down of MEES and energy efficiency is frustrating. Interestingly for me also the latest scheme, GBIS, appears to be attracting few installers who are willing to take work on due to cost implications.

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