The result of the 2017 Election has left the Conservatives as the largest party, but short of the seats required to form a majority government. According to reports, Prime Minister Theresa May is aiming to enter into a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to allow her to form a government. We are all waiting to see if Theresa May will lead a minority government, dependent vote by vote, issue by issue on the DUP and/or common positions with other parties, or if this will be a true coalition government with a formal coalition agreement in place.
Uncertainty caused by the Conservatives losing their majority stake in parliament will unsettle a property industry that has already been stirred by Brexit. The Brexit talks start on 19 June (the same day as the Queen’s Speech) and the resumption of Parliament is on 13 June. The clock is therefore ticking.
So what does this mean for planning? While it is not possible to know for sure what will happen, one thing we can be realistic about is that delay is to be expected.
First of all, former housing and planning minister Gavin Barwell has lost his seat and he has yet to be replaced. Will he be replaced with someone with an equivalent grasp of the detail and who can make quick progress? Will the new replacement accept the policy agenda and direction the former housing and planning minister had?
Secondly, any policy reform (such as CIL, CPO and NPPF) is bound to be further delayed. There are currently six DCLG consultation processes which are still open, the Housing White Paper ("Fixing our broken housing market: consultation") and the Build to Rent consultation ("Planning and affordable housing for Build to Rent") are of course particularly important for those in the housing and planning sector. In addition, there is likely to be no or very limited political capacity to drive forward any of these reforms and consultations because of the Article 50 negotiations (with their fixed March 2019 deadline) which will take up a lot of Government's time.
Thirdly, housing remains a key topic. Undoubtedly it will continue to be an area that will develop once the new Government is in place. However, this hung parliament and the horse-trading that will take place over housing policy to get a deal/coalition in place means that many housebuilders will hit the pause button on their investment decisions. This is the exact wrong moment for a planning and construction slow down. The country needs new homes desperately.
The planning industry is forever plagued by leadership and policy changes as most developments and infrastructure projects cross over elections, meaning there is never clear water to steer towards. All we can hope is that the negotiations are concluded rapidly so that the new Government is in place and ready to work with the sector to go out and get building.
Last night saw a number of Conservative defeats including Housing Minister Gavin Barwell, who lost his Croydon Central seat to Labour candidate Sarah Jones. Barwell was appointed Minister of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government in July 2016. Like his predecessors, his tenure in the role was short-lived and his loss will see yet another housing minister in place once the dust settles.