Gavin Barwell

Gavin Barwell unseated: Industry reacts

The UK is set to appoint a new housing minister after the shock results of last week’s general election.

Former minister of state for housing and planning Gavin Barwell was unseated from Croydon Central by Labour candidate Sarah Jones in the general election on 8th June.

This seemingly endless conveyor belt of housing policy makers through parliament comes during the middle of what many have called the UK’s most severe housing crisis.

“Losing the housing minister and a majority government is the last thing the housing market needs,” warned Sam Howard, chief operating officer at development lender Regentsmead.

“Barwell was one of the architects of the recent housing white paper and on a local level was a contributing force behind the massive regeneration taking place in Croydon.

“I am often in Croydon visiting our sites and can see what has been achieved with the right political will behind it.”

Earlier this year, the housing white paper set out plans to grant local authorities greater powers to speed up housebuilding, as well as a new £3bn homebuilding fund.

However, Benson Hersch, CEO of the Association of Short Term Lenders, suggested Mr Barwell’s departure could throw these plans into doubt.

These concerns were shared by Russell Quirk, founder and CEO of eMoov, who believed the EU negotiations looming on the horizon could overshadow domestic concerns.

“I suspect that the housing brief will take a back seat now, despite politicians’ promises in recent weeks, given the combined weight of negotiating Brexit, stabilising our economy, button-holing political support across the aisle on every vote and, inevitably, campaigning again for the next poll.”

Home and away

While Brexit may appear to take precedence over housing policy in Theresa May’s future cabinet meetings, the two issues are intrinsically linked.

Around 12% of the UK’s current construction workforce originates from other EU states, with more than a quarter of London’s 350,000 builders coming from the continent.

In November, the Society of Mortgage Professionals claimed that tighter immigration laws in the wake of the UK’s departure from the EU could exacerbate an already critical skills shortage.

Some estimates have suggested that Britain already requires an additional 400,000 new workers each year.

The new housing minister may have to tackle the UK’s critical skills shortage

“…Our greatest concern is that the flow of migrant workers might be reduced too quickly and before we are able to put in place a framework for training sufficient UK workers to replace them,” explained Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders.

“The construction sector is particularly vulnerable to dips in consumer confidence brought about by political uncertainty and therefore it’s crucial that this uncertainty is minimised.”

One construction training firm told Development Finance Today that skilled migrant workers should be given special dispensation to stay in the UK.

These fears will no doubt be at the forefront of the UK’s next housing minister’s mind, though it remains to be seen to whom the honour will fall.

“Any new government will need to focus on putting SME builders into a better place to build the homes and train the skilled workers the UK needs to succeed, as well as allowing regional economies to prosper,” added Richard Beresford, chief executive of the National Federation of Builders.

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