Blog: 10 February 2022New Minister, new opportunity?

Mark Sitch

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Mark Sitch

Planning Director

Birmingham office

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‘Here we go again’ was the over-riding reaction to another new Minister for Housing & Planning. This is the 11th minister in the role since 2010, as pointed out by LGC. We considered this in our own response on social media

But as with any change, there has to be a sense of opportunity. Change can be good. It’s just that we could all do with some continuity too.

There is so much to do in our sector and the need for smart, sustainable placemaking and planning has never been greater. We now have two big objectives to meet: delivery and sustainability. Before, many would argue it was about delivering sufficient numbers, allocating enough land, building enough new homes and commercial floorspace to meet the identified needs across the country. We now need to do all of this within the context of net zero and the climate emergency, alongside meeting other national and local policy requirements. We are all working hard to step up to this challenge, not least all of us at Barton Willmore as we look to continue to innovate and deliver sustainable placemaking and design.

So I’d like to see support from the new Minister that recognises the significant role the sector can play when engaged effectively and given policy parameters to work within. We are up for it. We would ask for as much clarity, coherence and consistency as we can get from government so we can play our part.

I have read the background on Stuart Andrew and I have already noted some of what he has done before might not exactly match a minister for housing’s brief. We should all judge him on what he does next not what he did several years ago.

What is it I’d like him to do? Consistent with my colleague Iain Painting’s recently-published views on the Levelling Up white paper, I’d like him to focus on joining things up. I’d like to see as much strategic thinking running through planning as possible. I think he would be wise to talk to the industry about how we can help to deliver this increasingly over-lapping policy jigsaw of levelling up, solving the housing crisis, driving economic growth, post Brexit Britain, and climate change.

I’m a big fan of Joanna Averley and how she has gone about stepping into her role as Chief Planner. I think Stuart Andrew could look to that example and benefit from doing so. Meet people, ask questions, be accessible, tell people the challenges you have as well as the challenges you want others to solve – this all helps to forge a collective endeavour.  And that, in my opinion, is the route to success.

My message to Mr Andrew is we’re all on the same side here. At Barton Willmore – and I think it’s fair to say across the industry too – we want to be the people who make the step change that sees planning and sustainability become truly integrated and inseparable. We want to be the generation that deals with this. We want to be the professionals that can be proud of the part we played.

I know it’s not as simple in politics. Who’s on whose team is part of the problem right now. But, as far as Barton Willmore and I are concerned, our purpose as planners and designers is bigger than the politics of a re-shuffle and, to borrow someone’s phrase, we are ‘getting on with the job’.

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Levelling Up, UK Housing, Housing and Planning Ministe