What we learned from Michael Gove’s Select Committee appearance

Joe Waters, 16 November 2021

On Monday 8 November the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove MP, appeared before the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee to give evidence on the work of his newly-formed department.

This was a useful opportunity for the Secretary of State to set out his vision for the new brief and provide more clarity on what the levelling up agenda means for the day-to-day operation of government. Housing associations are keen to hear more about the government’s ambitions for levelling up and what the sector can do to support them.

What does the new Secretary of State have planned for levelling up?

When asked how to define and measure levelling up, Gove referred back to the “four pillars” outlined in his party conference speech:

  • Strengthening local leadership.
  • Raising living standards and productivity.
  • Improving public services.
  • Strengthening pride in place and local identity.

We were told to expect the publication of a levelling up white paper this side of the New Year, which will expand on these criteria in further detail. Later on in the session, the Secretary of State agreed with the suggestion that housing must be central to solving the “levelling up puzzle”.  As anchors and placemakers in their communities, housing associations are well positioned to deliver against these “four pillars” and can play a key role in the levelling up agenda.

The future of social housing

Outlining his attitude towards social housing more broadly, Gove was positive, emphasising the “urgent” need for social housing across the country and highlighting the role it can play in delivering the different types of housing tenures needed in our communities.

Interestingly, when one committee member asked if Gove had any “ideological block” on social housing, he replied that he had “none at all” and later added: “We should all try and rid ourselves of some of the positions from the 1980s which reflected a very, very different world.” Comparing himself to previous reformers who have held the housing brief, the Secretary of State appeared receptive to new ideas to longstanding challenges in the sector.

Building safety funding for housing associations

Gove also gave an encouraging indication of his approach to building safety. He noted the “well documented” challenges facing housing associations with large remediation costs, and the knock-on impact this has had on investment in the supply and quality of affordable homes.

Our recently published research found that more than 1 in 10 new affordable homes can no longer be built due to the costs of making buildings safe. The Secretary of State acknowledged that a “disproportionate” level of responsibility has been placed on innocent parties. Gove said that he would pause plans for leaseholders to pay for the removal of cladding via a loan scheme, while looking again at the government’s approach with a fresh pair of eyes.

As the Building Safety Bill makes its way through Parliament, we’ll be following any changes to the government’s approach very closely as we continue to make the case for additional funding to fix building safety issues in social rented homes.

What next for the Planning Reform Bill?

Committee members took the opportunity to ask the Secretary of State for his views on planning reform, as his predecessors’ controversial proposals have been put on pause. Gove said that the reforms would not be abandoned altogether, but that the government wants to move to a position where communities “accept and welcome” new development.

To achieve this, Gove said that planning reforms must ensure that beauty is taken seriously, the environment is protected, community plays a key role, and that infrastructure is in place to mitigate the impact of new development. He also shared the view that net zero must be “at the heart” of planning reforms.

Overall, this session gave us a positive early indication of the new Secretary of State’s approach to social housing as he takes stock of the role’s most pressing and difficult challenges. We look forward to working with the newly formed department.