Rachel Maclean was yesterday removed from her post as minister of state for housing and planning at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (DLUHC), a post she had held since 7th February 2023. At the time of her appointment, she was the sixth person in the role within a single year.
Her sacking was part of a wide-ranging ministerial reshuffle apparently triggered by home secretary Suella Braverman’s reluctance to moderate her rhetoric in regard to, inter alia, police, immigrants and homeless people.
Braverman has been replaced as home secretary by James Cleverly, who in turn has been replaced as foreign secretary by former prime minister David Cameron, making a return to cabinet after seven years away and taking a seat in the House of Lords to be able to do so.
Another departure was Therese Coffey, replaced as secretary of state at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) by Steve Barclay. His former post of health secretary has gone to Victoria Atkins, the daughter of Sir Robert Atkins, who was himself an environment minister in the mid-1990s under John Major.
While it is Cameron’s appointment that fills the front pages today, the appointment of a 16th housing minister since 2010 has attracted much comment from across the construction and property sectors.
Lee Rowley is promoted from parliamentary under-secretary of state (local government and building safety) in DLUHC to minister of state for housing.
The brief is not totally alien to him: he has been housing minister before, albeit for just six weeks, when Liz Truss was prime minister, although he held the post at the lower rank of parliamentary under-secretary of state, rather than minister of state.
Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of master Builders, said: “The reappointment of Lee Rowley MP as the new housing minister means he should be able to hit the ground running to tackle the growing housing crisis. With housing output set to be at an all-time low the new minister will need to focus on the barriers stopping new homes from being built. Rowley needs to build on the work of his predecessor Rachel Maclean MP who was a strong advocate for SME house builders.”
Rico Wojtulewicz, head of policy at the National Federation of Builders (NFB), said: “We are sad to lose another housing minister and the Defra secretary of state because we were engaged in serious discussions regarding a medium sized site planning definition and strengthening the NPPF, as well as how we build in biodiversity.
“We look forward to meeting the new housing minister and Defra secretary to highlight why these policies are important as without them, the government will be responsible for a greater number of SME builders and regional contractors leaving the construction sector, which makes levelling up even more difficult and further harms UK productivity."
Ian Fletcher, director of policy at British Property Federation, said: “We welcome the appointment of Lee Rowley as the new housing minister and wish him well in the role. While he will have a full in-tray to deal with, not least renter’s reform, leasehold reform, and a large number of planning issues, at least he is already sighted on the strategic issues facing the department and has a strong understanding of local government and the need to ensure that planning and place-making is well resourced within that. We particularly welcome his embrace of a multi-tenure approach to housing supply, which is pragmatic in recognising the contribution that sectors like build-to-rent, PBSA, and retirement living can make. Overall we hope that he puts his experience to maximum effect representing the views of our sector ahead of next week’s crucial autumn statement.”
Nick Leeming, chairman of estate agents Jackson-Stops, said: “The timing for a new housing minister couldn’t have been worse, with Maclean due to introduce the Renters Reform Bill tomorrow, and the chancellor’s autumn statement less than two weeks away.
“With recent news that housebuilding has fallen to its lowest level since the financial crisis, there is mounting pressure for the government to produce a reliable and experienced figurehead to this role, and quickly. House prices are often a barometer of health of the wider economy, giving challenges as well as opportunities ahead of the next general election. Meanwhile, the sector remains hopeful that the chancellor can offer a sense of stability and structure on November 22nd where other departments cannot.”