Sunak found himself catapulted back into the limelight following his failed bid to become Conservative Party leader and the new PM over the summer.
In that fight he lost to Liz Truss, but her and Kwasi Kwarteng’s disastrous mini-Budget and it’s subsequent near total reversal put paid to her premiership after only 44 days – making her the shortest-serving PM ever.
Sunak was appointed new Tory leader and next PM after Boris Johnson and Penny Mordaunt withdrew from the race, and he has faced quite the in-tray since then.
But where does he stand on housing specifically?
He’s in favour of building on brownfield sites
During the Conservative leadership battle this summer, there was remarkably little said about housing by either major candidate.
However, we did find out that Sunak is keen on brownfield development to help protect the much-treasured Green Belt (something lots of Tory MPs are also very anxious about).
He has previously committed to a brownfield-first policy when it comes to housing. During Prime Minister’s Questions in late October, Sunak – when asked if the Government would follow a brownfield-first policy - said: “I can give that assurance. We must protect our green belt, and we are adopting a brownfield-first strategy.
“I’m pleased we had a record number of new homes built in the last year but it’s important that we build those homes in the right places.”
He’s having some bother with housebuilding
One of the biggest rebellions Sunak has so far faced during his short time in charge has been over housing.
A backbench revolt has seen nearly 50 MPs backing a plan to ban mandatory housebuilding targets in England, which in turn led to the Government postponing a vote on the matter for fear that they might lose.
The amendment to the Levelling Up Bill currently making its way through Parliament was made by former Cabinet minister Theresa Villiers, who has argued that the targets were ‘undermining local-decision-making’.
She also claimed they were delivering ‘excessive numbers’ in parts of the UK.
The government’s long-held ambition to build 300,000 new homes a year by the middle of this decade has long been criticised as unrealistic, and Villiers said the number should be reviewed as it wasn’t based on any kind of evidence.
Michael Gove is said to currently be meeting with the rebels to ward off the revolt, with those in favour of the targets saying they encourage new housebuilding and increase the number of homes being constructed.
He hasn’t announced any housing schemes…yet
Most Conservative PMs in recent memory have had their flagship housing scheme. For Margaret Thatcher, it was Right to Buy. For David Cameron and George Osborne, it was Help to Buy. For Theresa May, it was the ill-fated Starter Homes. For Boris Johnson, there were First Homes and 95% mortgages.
So far, Sunak has made no mention of any new housing schemes. But, with Help to Buy now closed for new applicants, and ending completely in March next year, there may be an opening for a new Government scheme.
On the other hand, he may feel the effective Stamp Duty holiday – which will come to an end in late March 2025 – is enough of an incentive for First Time Buyers and that there are better ways of helping young people onto a ladder than another scheme attempting to mirror what has gone on before.
Right to Buy and Help to Buy have proved to be enormously divisive – with keen supporters and staunch opponents in equal measure – so Sunak and Gove may seek to steer away from any new schemes for the time being.
He seems to be for rental reform
Although Sunak hasn’t made any public proclamations on rental reform, his actions since he became PM suggest he is for the reform plans originally laid out in June 2022 by then-Housing Secretary Michael Gove.
Gove was sacked by Boris Johnson in the very dying moments of his premiership – replaced first by Greg Clark, and then his near namesake Simon Clarke – but was immediately reappointed by Sunak.
Gove, comfortably the most experienced minister in Sunak’s Cabinet, was one of the key architects of the ‘A Fairer Private Rented Sector’ White Paper, which set out plans to abolish Section 21 evictions, extend the Decent Homes Standards to the PRS for the first time and create a new Property Portal to help landlords understand their obligations.
While the Liz Truss government was relatively cool on rental reform and felt it had bigger fish to fry, Sunak’s re-appointment of Gove – a famously good Whitehall operator renowned for getting what he wants through Parliament – suggests he is much more on board with the plans to transform the PRS than his predecessor was.
There is still no firm timetable for the rental reform measures to be brought before the House – beyond promises that it will be within this Parliament – but don’t be shocked to see the Renters’ Reform Bill finally reaching its first stage in 2023.
With speeches or mentions of housing being so far rare, it’s hard to tell for sure what Sunak thinks or whether he has a grand plan for housing.
But, as he’s been in the job only for a matter of months, it’s likely it will take a bit of time for his true intentions to become clearer.