Business and Real Estate

Industry response to Simon Clarke’s confirmation as the new housing secretary

There has been a mixed reaction to the appointment of Simon Clarke as Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on 6 September 2022, as part of the new government headed by Liz Truss. The fact that he is the 6th person to head this department in 5 years has caused scepticism in the industry. In addition, his age (37 years) which has been referred to as “not much older than today’s average first-time buyer” is another reason why people are a bit wary. Estate agents all over, including the leading estate agents in Sittingbourne are also waiting to see the impact on real estate with Mr Clarke as the new Housing Secretary. 

However, Mr Clarke himself remains positive about his new role, despite the challenges involved, and says that he will “give it (his) all”. He previously held the position of Minister of State at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in 2020, which has already given him some insight into the issues facing the department.

Construction instead of consultation:  Many in the industry feel that the affordability problem can be solved by building more homes. As one expert mentioned, “investing more in local, regional and national infrastructure to better connect communities” would help in this respect. Mr Clarke 2020 had mentioned at a conference that he wanted to “place particular focus on our towns and our coastal communities, including many places that have felt – with good reason – that they have failed to share the benefits of the growth experienced in other parts of the UK. I come from one of them. This government has made a solemn pledge to these communities. And we will not let them down.” The industry hopes this pledge will be fulfilled.

Digitisation:  With the aim being to provide more housing in a shorter time span, additional digitisation of the property market would help in saving due diligence time as well as decreasing the conveyancers’ load. The technology available makes digitisation a much-needed asset, which the industry trusts the new Housing Secretary will use to the maximum advantage.

Building smart houses:  Some experts feel that the long-term benefits of alignment of health and housing need to be looked into. Specialist housing would make available more space, aid the social care systems and NHS and provide the elderly with housing according to their needs. Smart home technology needs to be installed where all systems such as lighting, heating, security etc are connected and managed centrally. Good internet connections are essential.

Affordable housing with rising prices:   Despite predictions to the contrary, house prices were marginally rising in August as well. To work on an affordable housing agenda including regeneration projects, new homes, and eco-friendly buildings to achieve the target of net zero is a huge challenge. Mr Clarke has supported these policies in the past and it is hoped that these will play a major role in his duties.

Public sector and private rented sector:  Kate Davies, an authority in the mortgage market feels that a long-term strategy is called for. She said, “We urgently need more housing stock to help younger generations in the UK become first-time buyers and start building up equity for a stable financial future.” Another authority agrees, stating that only if a long-term plan for housing and commitment to longevity is created will the required change emerge. Yet another authority has stated that the rental housing supply crisis needs to be urgently tackled. Uncertainty over reforms in the private rented sector has caused some landlords to leave the market even though there is still a high rental demand. The White Paper proposed rental reform law needs to be addressed at the earliest.

Giving importance to communities:  Levelling up requires focused adjustments in community-led development. Using Community Land Trusts, where projects are developed based on the demands of local residents, could achieve this goal. Some members in the industry feel that the government should explore working with housing associations to increase community and social benefits beyond the number of homes built.

Conclusion:  The challenges faced by the new Housing Secretary will be numerous and daunting. However, according to another property authority in the government, Mr Clarke “will play a critical role in the Prime Minister’s plan to “deliver, deliver, deliver”, with levelling up, housing supply and carbon reduction all vital to the UK’s future prosperity and global competitiveness”. With his youth and zest, the industry hopes that the new Housing Secretary will do just that and deliver on the promises made.

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