It can be hard to keep up with the comings and goings in parliament at the moment, but last month, following a delay to politics after the death of the Queen and the period of national mourning, Lee Rowley was named as the newest housing minister.
Rowley, the MP for North East Derbyshire since 2017, is the 13th Conservative minister to take on the role in the last 12 years and the fourth this year alone. Disgraced MP Chris Pincher held the role at the beginning of the year before swapping places with Stuart Andrew in a February government reshuffle that was designed to shore up Boris Johnson’s flagging premiership.
Andrew was then part of the mass resignations of ministers in the lead-up to Johnson’s own resignation in July, before he was replaced by Marcus Jones as Johnson set about naming a temporary cabinet and new junior ministers for his final months in office.
The MP for Nuneaton was only in the role for a matter of months (62 days, in fact) before he left the department and was replaced by Rowley.
Rowley’s appointment came in two phases. Originally, he was only named as a minister in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, but because of the Queen’s death and the postponement of all normal political activity, he wasn’t confirmed as having specific responsibility for housing until later in September.
Who is the new housing minister?
Uniquely, certainly in recent years, Rowley actually has some first-hand experience of the industry, having formerly worked as an estate agent after leaving Oxford University.
Relatively young by the standards of MPs, the 42-year-old will work on the housing brief underneath his boss, and Secretary of State of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Simon Clarke.
A supporter of Brexit, he was previously a junior minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and a Government Whip (Lord Commissioner of HM Treasury) between September 2021 and July 2022.
Interestingly, Rowley was also someone who resigned from Government to force Johnson’s hand and explicitly told the former Prime Minister to ‘step aside’ in early July.
He initially backed Kemi Badenoch’s bid for Tory leader – he was one of her campaign managers – before switching his support to Liz Truss when she was knocked out of the race.
As well as his time as an estate agent, he has also worked in the energy, education and financial sectors, and spent eight years working as a councillor for Westminster City Council.
Clarke tweeted of Rowley’s appointment: “Delayed in deference to the mourning period, it’s excellent @Lee4NED is the new Housing Minister. Lee is a huge intellect, a great friend and is keenly committed to building the homes we need.”
Rowley himself responded: “A big job ahead to further help raise standards & service across the sector, to improve how planning works for local communities and, vitally, to empower more people achieve their dream of home ownership.”
What does his role involve?
According to gov.uk, Rowley’s responsibilities as housing minister include the following: overarching responsibility for housing strategy, including supply and home ownership; pushing forward the Government’s Investment Zones plan; stewardship of Homes England; continuing with reform of leasehold and freehold; and planning reform and casework.
He is expected to also have responsibility for driving forward the Government’s rental reform plans, which have been rather in disarray in recent days – firstly, a Government leak to The Times suggested that the plans to abolish Section 21 would be scrapped, but just a day later Liz Truss said at PMQs that the Government was still very much committed to getting rid of so-called no-fault evictions.
Rowley hasn’t offered any opinions yet on the Fairer Private Rented Sector White Paper, which was largely put together by Eddie Hughes, the former housing and homelessness minister, and which set out a wide range of proposals to reform the PRS.
He will also need to get to grips with leasehold reform and solving the cladding crisis, as well as likely playing a part in overseeing the plans to improve the home buying and selling process for all parties.
What’s he said so far?
The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill is still expected to continue its progress through Parliament, according to Rowley.
There had been speculation that it would be scrapped following Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s announcement of a new planning bill and concerns about the dedication of the new Government to levelling up – the flagship agenda of the Boris Johnson administration.
He’s also said the Government will go ahead with the abolition of the 300,000 new homes a year target, something that had been criticised by both Clarke and Truss during the Tory leadership race.
Other than that, he’s kept a fairly low-profile during his first month in the job, but planning – which is a thorny issue among Conservative MPs because of concerns over the Green Belt – is likely to be his first major challenge in the role, with pressure from key stakeholders for a clear direction of travel.
Most of all, many in the industry will hope this role finally has some permanence after years of a housing minister merry-go-round and will be hoping there is no requirement for a fifth housing minister in one year.