Planning reform – at its Eleventh hour?

By Rebecca Coleman

As Stuart Andrew MP steps into pastures new this week, his main mission appears to be to stop developers from doing the same. A staunch critic of housing targets, Green Belt development and everything in between, the new Housing Minister (the 11th since 2010) has been by all accounts a surprise pick to take over from incumbent Chris Pincher MP.
 
Since he was first elected as Member of Parliament for Pudsey in 2010, Andrew has held several different titles, ranging from Under Secretary for Wales to Deputy Chief Whip of the House. However, when it comes to his new brief, it is undoubtedly his 11 years’ experience as a local councillor that will prove most helpful for him to draw upon.
 
Andrew’s political career began when he was elected to Wrexham County Borough Council in 1995, briefly defecting to Labour before returning to the Conservatives when he moved to Leeds in 2000. He was subsequently elected to Leeds City Council, serving on the council from 2003 up until 2010. In this time, he became known as a keen campaigner against ‘excessive development’ within his ward, becoming a member of the Council’s planning panel and eventually, Lead Member for the Development Department.
 
It is a passion that he has carried into his parliamentary career. Andrew has racked up a healthy record of engagement in planning and development as an MP, participating in everything from national debates to constituency campaigns. His focus has consistently been on the need for local authorities to adopt a brownfield-first approach to ensure that Green Belt land is protected from development, stemmed by his ardent opposition to Leeds City Council’s controversial Local Plan.
 
A glance into his voting record says much of the same. Andrew has voted against a new generation of New Towns and Garden Cities, and against giving local authorities a new ‘right to grow’ to deliver the homes their communities need. Perhaps most controversially, he was one of 72 MPs who defeated an amendment to make rental homes fit for human habitation whilst being landlords themselves.
 
So, what does Stuart Andrew like? Resoundingly, community engagement. He has advocated extensively for greater community involvement in planning, extolling the virtues of neighbourhood forums and ‘real place-making.’ In a parliamentary debate on planning in 2013, Andrew even offered his own definition of the term ‘Localism’ namely, “local communities deciding what, where and when development should take place.”
 
It is with this in mind that Andrew’s new role appears to be a smart move by the Government. With the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities preparing an update on its long-delayed planning reforms in the Spring, reforms which have been roundly criticised for diminishing community involvement, a Minister who has long championed the idea of localism writ large will undoubtedly be an invaluable advocate. Even better still, one who has come fresh from two years at the Whip’s Office.
 
 
Indeed, with his new brief including responsibility for planning reform, housing delivery and housing strategy, his first few months will put him at the very forefront of the biggest overhaul to the planning system in decades.
 
Having spent the first few years of his life in the village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Stuart Andrew is no stranger to tongue twisters. It can only be hoped that his long-held opposition to development and his newfound responsibility to deliver 300,000 homes a year is a conundrum he will be able to get his head around.