In a tumultuous week in Westminster, one of lesser commented on stories (outside of the housebuilding industry) is the appointment of the UK’s eighth housing minister in as many years. Kit Malthouse has been appointed to replace Dominic Raab after his promotion to the post of Brexit Secretary. Because of the ongoing debate and speculation surrounding the mini-reshuffle at Cabinet level, little has yet been said about Malthouse’s appointment, so here’s a short overview of his background and key interests:
Prior to his parliamentary career, he trained as a Chartered Accountant at what is now Deloitte, before leaving to become Finance Director at the Cannock Group.
He was first elected as a councillor to Westminster Council in 1998 to represent St George’s ward, Pimlico. There he progressed from backbencher to group whip, committee chair, and finally to Deputy Council Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance.
Malthouse was subsequently elected to the London Assembly seat of West Central, and within days was also appointed by Boris Johnson as Deputy Mayor for Policing, a role in which he served for four years. In 2012 he was moved to become the first Deputy Mayor for Business and Enterprise, with a brief to improve employment figures in the capital.
Malthouse was elected to Parliament in 2015 to the seat of North West Hampshire, where he replaced outgoing MP and former frontbencher Sir George Young. In the Cabinet reshuffle of January 2018, he was made Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (parliamentary speak for junior minister) for Family Support, Housing, and Child Maintenance at the Department for Work and Pensions. The bulk of this brief was around the ongoing implementation of Universal Credit, although he will also have touched on the housing industry as part of it, being responsible for housing support and benefits.
On Monday he was appointed Minister of State for Housing at the Ministry for Housing, Communities, and Local Government. Minster of State is the second most senior minister in a department, behind the Cabinet minister (Secretary of State). The Minister of State has no formal powers of their own, legally the powers they do have are delegated from, and therefore subject to, the Secretary of State. As such, the degree of influence and power Malthouse may have over housing policy will depend on his relationship with Local Government Secretary James Brokenshire.
Malthouse is an avowed Brexiteer who penned a piece on his website shortly before the referendum entitled ‘It’s Time to Vote Leave’.
Views on housing and planning
Malthouse has made numerous comments in the past on issues pertaining to the built environment.
In January as part of his new brief at the DWP he co-authored an article for Inside Housing magazine, which sung the praises of Extra Care housing, encouraging readers to take part in the Government consultation on proposed changes to sheltered/supported housing, which will come into force April 2020.
On his own website he says that planning is a key mission for him in his constituency, citing his experience as a councillor in planning, and recounting his frustrations with speculative development, going as far as to say “developers are a wily bunch” and branding an inspector decision to overturn a Neighbourhood Plan as ‘idiotic’. It is clear that he supports the localism model put forward under Cameron and is very supportive of the Neighbourhood Plan system. He closes his discussion of planning with the following quote/aspiration:
“I want even more local control and so will continue with this campaign. In my view where a local authority has a valid local plan agreed, and a village in the same area has a valid neighbourhood plan, the Planning Inspector should have no powers whatsoever. I want planning to be truly local and that is what I will try to achieve.”
When Brandon Lewis was Housing Minister, Malthouse asked of him:
“I have had discussions with them [Housing Associations] on a number of occasions: exemptions for small rural communities where housing association properties are extremely valuable but also extremely hard to replace? Have we had discussions with housing associations about the same exemptions for those small communities as are currently embodied in council house right to buy?
He has also intervened politically and through the press in a number of planning issues in his own constituency, inviting then-Housing Minister Brandon Lewis to his constituency to reinforce the importance of a plan-led approach to housing.
He took Pizza Hut to task for breach of planning conditions in a major local controversy in Andover, as reported by the Andover Advertiser.
Of note to the housing industry and built environment sector, according to TheyWorkForYou, Malthouse has voted:
- Consistently for new High Speed Rail infrastructure (HS2) (2 for – 0 against – 0 abstentions)
- Consistently for reducing funding to local governments (3 for – 0 against – 0 abstentions)
- Generally voted against increasing powers to local government (4 for – 11 against – 0 abstentions)
- Consistently voted for phasing out secure tenancies for life (5 for – 0 against – 0 abstentions)
- Consistently voted for charging a market rent to high earners renting a council home (5 for – 0 against – 0 abstentions)
On local government he specifically voted:
- for more devolution and to allow councils to collaboratively form regional combined authorities;
- for central Government, rather than local councils, to determine how many starter homes to be sold to first time buyers at a discount are to be required to be provided in new residential developments;
- to require local councils to charge high income social housing tenants rent at levels set by central Government;
- not to exempt local councils from having to require discounted starter homes on certain new developments if they provide affordable home ownership via other routes;
- against making the demolition or change of use of pubs or other drinking establishments subject to planning permission;
- against requiring the local retention of funds from selling high value council homes where there is a local need for social housing;
- against giving local councils a right to retain payments in respect of vacant high value council houses to provide new social homes where they can demonstrate a need for them;
- to give a Secretary of State the power to ban certain types of planning condition in England;
- to allow local councils in West Somerset and Taunton Deane to propose boundary changes without requiring a review or recommendation from the Local Government Boundary Commission
- to allow a proposal for a single tier of local government in Bournemouth, Dorset and Poole to be made by the area's local councils without the requirement of an invitation from the Secretary of State
Mr Malthouse is an intelligent and pragmatic minister who will be someone who is willing to have constructive (pun intended) conversations. He puts serious emphasis on localism and local control of the planning process and is disdainful of speculative development and inspector decisions which overturn local democracy.
Depending on how his relationship with Local Government Secretary James Brokenshire develops he may or may not be empowered to intervene on behalf of the Government on matters such as this. He is likely to back local authorities in situations where they clash with developers over speculative developments or challenges to adopted Local Plans. However, he also recognises the need to upgrade our infrastructure and meet our housing need, and has backed initiatives to extend housebuilding including starter homes and he is a staunch supporter of HS2.
“I am delighted to be appointed as Minister of State for Housing.
“Building the homes this country needs is a top priority for this government. I am keen to build on the real progress that has been made and start working with the sector so we can deliver more homes, restore the dream of home ownership and build a housing market fit for the future.
“I’m also committed to continuing the important work of supporting those affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy and ensuring people are safe, and feel safe in their homes.”
Statement from Kit Malthouse MP following his appointment at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.