Opinion

Revolving door of housing ministers is making housing crisis worse – this has to change

The plea for a consistent housing minister is not just a call for political stability, but a recognition of the complex challenges involved in addressing the housing crisis, writes RIBA president Muyiwa Oki

Roll-up! Roll-up for the housing minister merry-go-round

Prime minister Rishi Sunak’s recent reshuffle has once again brought attention to the ever-revolving door of housing ministers, with Rachel Maclean the latest casualty. The appointment of Lee Rowley marks the 16th change in the housing minister brief since 2010. These frequent changes are hindering efforts to tackle the housing crisis by contributing to a lack of a comprehensive, long-term strategy.  

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The scale and complexity of the UK’s housing crisis is significant. From the thousands of people without a place to live, to the millions of households on social housing waiting lists, the housing market has failed to meet the urgent need for stable and affordable housing. If we are to boost housing supply, promote higher standards and prioritise quality and sustainability, we require a strategic, proactive and holistic approach. But with the frequent changes in leadership, the development of a cohesive and sustained strategy continues to stall.

RIBA president Muyiwa Oki on the housing minister
Royal Institute of British Architects president Muyiwa Oki said the churn of housing ministers means a cohesive, long-term plan on housing is out of reach. Image: Ivan Jones

The plea for a consistent housing minister is not just a call for political stability, but a recognition of the complex challenges involved in addressing the housing crisis. Each new minister needs time to familiarise themselves with the intricacies of the issues in their portfolio, and just as they begin to grasp the complexities, they are replaced. This lack of continuity hampers the development of a strategic plan that is crucial for the effective, long-term resolution of the housing crisis.  

In the face of these challenges, the role of architects becomes even more vital. Architects play a key role in designing and building high-quality, sustainable homes which are fit for the needs of our communities both now and in the future. The decline in the involvement of architects in mass-market housing has contributed to challenges in design standards, with ramifications for the environment. Many new homes never see the inside of an architect’s studio – this must change. 

If we are to embed good design across all projects, there is a pressing need to address the resource gap in local authority planning departments, particularly the shortage of qualified design expertise.  

Local authorities’ ability to recruit and retain highly qualified planners and design professionals is crucial. Investing in planning departments and empowering local decision-making is essential for creating well-designed developments that meet the needs of communities. This necessitates not only financial resources but also a commitment to closing loopholes in the planning system and creating a level playing field that ensures all homes and buildings meet the same high standards.  

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We know that housebuilding needs to be more than just a numbers game. New settlements must be well-designed, connected, vibrant places where people are able to enjoy high standards of living.   

Urgent action is needed to address the housing crisis, and this requires a consistent, long-term commitment from policymakers. Amid the revolving door of leadership, a steadfast approach to quality, collaboration, and proactive planning is essential for reshaping the housing landscape and meeting the diverse needs of communities across the UK. We continue to work with government and the wider built environment sector to deliver well-designed, well-connected, inclusive and accessible places.    

Muyiwa Oki is president of the Royal Insitute of British Architects (RIBA).

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