LONDON — He may be promising to tackle the U.K.’s housing crisis, but homebuilders say Michael Gove keeps giving them the cold shoulder.
According to quarterly transparency data published by his department, Britain’s housing secretary did not log a single meeting with any of the U.K.’s major house builders or their industry groups in the first quarter of this year.
Industry reps expressed dismay at the data, accusing Gove of “pandering” to Conservative MPs spooked by local anger at developments. His department pushed back strongly, and pointed to a string of meetings between junior ministers and the sector.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak — alongside Gove — made a major announcement last week in which the pair promised to meet a Conservative manifesto promise to have delivered one million new homes by the next election.
The announcement was widely viewed as an attempt to jolt the government’s faltering efforts to tackle a long-running housing shortage in the U.K., with polls showing that a majority of voters believe housing issues have gotten worse since the last general election. Sunak and Gove also have to weigh concerns from Conservative backbenchers who — like their Labour counterparts — sometimes oppose new developments on their patch.
Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation industry group, told POLITICO: “The government’s increasingly anti-development and anti-business policy approach is driving down housing supply and has considerable social and economic implications.”
Despite promises to reform planning rules as part of the effort to boost housing figures, Baseley accused Gove of having “capitulated” to Conservative NIMBYs — an acronym for “not in my backyard” — and argued this could contribute to record low housing supply.
“Amidst a deepening housing crisis, and with hundreds of thousands of jobs on the line, the housing secretary’s ongoing refusal to engage with industry is extremely damaging,” he said.
Gove took a tough line with housing developers over the U.K.’s cladding scandal, which saw homeowners forced to bear the substantial cost of replacing dangerous external cladding on their buildings in the wake of a deadly tower block fire in 2017.
Some in the industry believe this stance has continued since, but they argue limiting engagement with the sector is short-sighted. House builders claimed they had only received invites to Gove’s Monday morning housing speech late the previous Friday afternoon.
Speaking to POLITICO, one lobbyist working for a major U.K. housing developer said of Sunak making his own speeches on the subject: “It’s good to see the prime minister taking the lead on housing delivery.
“He’s obviously realized that his housing secretary isn’t interested in anything other than fighting the industry and pandering to NIMBYs which, a year out from the general election, may support his Surrey majority but won’t help solve the housing crisis or create a new generation of home-owners.”
A promise in the Conservative manifesto involves the delivery of a million new homes by the next election | Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson pushed back hard, saying: “We absolutely reject these comments. Just this week, the secretary of state set out an ambitious 10-point plan to build the homes that Britain needs, in the places people want them.”
They added: “The secretary of state has continued to engage with developers — including through roundtables with industry leaders in December and in May. The housing minister and departmental officials have also carried out multiple engagements with developers and industry bodies and these engagements will continue.
“We continue to work with stakeholders across the sector to ensure we are delivering the housing this country needs.”