With housing starts falling, this turbulent week in politics has served up the eighth housing minister in as many years. Preserve us from these interesting times, writes Emily Booth
‘May you live in interesting times’ goes the old Chinese curse. And it’s all the more chilling, somehow, because it seems so innocuous.
Certainly housing, a critical sector for the profession and the wider construction industry, is having an interesting time just now. Housing starts on site have fallen by their sharpest level for over a year. The sector scored 154 on the much-watched Glenigan Index last month, down a whopping 25 per cent on the same month a year earlier. The Glenigan Index measures new starts on site over the preceding three months and excludes both very large and very small schemes. And within that data, the numbers show that new social housing projects have plummeted a shocking 42 per cent.
Housing – rightly in the spotlight after the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy and the many failures that led to it – is central to communities’ success and wellbeing. It should be at the forefront of government policies for growth and investment.
We hope Malthouse can stay considerably longer than his predecessor so he can effect real change
Against this backdrop, this turbulent week in politics served up just what the housing sector doesn’t need: a new housing minister. The eighth since 2010. Dominic Raab had hardly got his feet under the desk before he was whisked off to lead the Brexit negotiations. Perhaps he will do better than David Davis in the Department for Exiting the European Union hot-seat; we can only hope. We wish Kit Malthouse well with the vital housing brief, and we hope he can stay considerably longer than Raab so he can effect real change.
RIBA president Ben Derbyshire is right when he says: ‘If the government are as serious as they say they are about building the homes and communities the country desperately needs, we need to see real, continued leadership at the top of government. The crisis in affordability and quality of housing will not be addressed without it.’
As for all this chopping and changing and uncertainty: City traders might love it (that’s how they make their money), but wider industry doesn’t. As Christine Murray points out in her thought-provoking article on Brexit, ‘the uncertainty is maddening. With the cliff-edge in sight, the whole industry is facing the loss – in just eight months’ time – of an already dwindling European migrant workforce and friction-free access to building materials … In London, 28 per cent of construction workers are from the EU. What will happen on site, and how will it affect costs?’
These are timely questions, and interesting times, indeed.