Who is the new Housing Secretary Matthew Pennycook? And can he build the 300,000 homes a year that Labour is advocating?

Keir Starmer has appointed Matthew Pennycook as the Labour Party’s new Housing Secretary at the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Now that the party has announced a series of ambitious housing plans, it already has a lot on its to-do list.

But who is Pennycook, what are his top priorities and how does he plan to solve the country’s long-term housing crisis?

New housing secretary: Keir Starmer has appointed Matthew Pennycook as minister for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC)

What is the task of the Minister of Housing?

Matthew Pennycook will work with Angela Rayner, Labour’s Deputy First Minister and Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and Jim McMahon, who is expected to take on the local government role.

Pennycook finds himself in a role where he has had 16 different ministers in 14 years of Conservative rule, with a further nine ministers in the previous 13 years under Labour.

Pennycook posted a message on X, formerly known as Twitter, after his appointment, writing: ‘It is a great honour to have been appointed Minister.

‘Addressing the housing crisis and stimulating economic growth is essential for national renewal. Time to get to work.’

What are Labour’s housing plans?

Pennycook has been tasked with delivering Labour’s plan to solve the country’s housing crisis by tackling the housing shortage and improving the rights of tenants and leaseholders.

His top priority will be to deliver on Labour’s pledge to build 1.5 million homes over the next five years.

Labour wants to achieve this by shaking up the planning system to allow more homes to be built on less attractive parts of the green belt, also known as the ‘grey belt’, and to help public bodies such as councils buy land for houses more cheaply.

There is also the unfinished Renters (Reform) Bill still to go through parliament. This would include a ban on no-fault eviction orders under Section 21, although some Conservative MPs tried to water down the plans ahead of the election.

Then there is the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Act. Although this Act was approved by the King in May, it has not yet come into force. There are still quite a few details to be worked out. This means that the Act will have to be passed by Labour in the coming years.

Who is Matthew Pennycook?

Matthew Pennycook, 41, was shadow minister for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, which was renamed under Labour, for three years before the election.

He is the Member of Parliament for Greenwich and Woolwich in London and was elected in 2015.

In last week’s elections he won a large majority, beating his closest rival by 18,366 votes.

Before starting his political career, he worked for a number of charities and voluntary organisations, including the Child Poverty Action Group and the Fair Pay Network.

He also worked as a researcher at the Resolution Foundation, an independent think tank focused on improving the living standards of people on low to middle incomes.

What are his priorities as Minister of Housing?

It is clear that the Renters (Reform) Bill and ending no-fault evictions are top priorities for Pennycook.

On June 20 this year, he posted the following on X: ‘The Tories have failed to deliver on their 2019 manifesto promise to abolish no-fault evictions under Section 21.

‘Labour will deliver where the Tories have failed and will take action to give tenants the long-term security and better rights and conditions they deserve. Tenants will be better off with Labour.’

In an interview with Kay Burley on Sky News, he said: ‘We are going to introduce legislation that will give tenants proper protection, that will really and decisively level the playing field between landlords and tenants and make tenants better off. We are going to do this as a priority and as quickly as we can.’

A better deal for tenants: Pennycook has the unfinished Renters (Reform) Bill to get through Parliament. This includes the ban on Section 21 no-fault eviction notices

A better deal for tenants: Pennycook has the unfinished Renters (Reform) Bill to get through Parliament. This includes the ban on Section 21 no-fault eviction notices

But it is perhaps the target of 1.5 million new homes that will weigh most heavily on the new Minister of Housing.

To achieve his goal, he is tasked with reforming the planning system.

Planning departments have been hit by local government budget cuts in recent years, which has led to a backlog in planning applications, which some say is holding back investment in new housing.

Pennycook wants to solve this problem by ensuring that councils have up-to-date local plans and by giving them money to employ more planning officers. This money is funded by an additional stamp duty surcharge for overseas buyers.

In a recent interview with the i newspaper, Pennycook said: ‘We have a huge package of planning reforms. There is money for planning. We have already announced a £25 million injection to get the system working and to process more applications.’

He also confirmed that Labour is prepared to build on parts of the Green Belt. The plan is to develop lower quality, ‘ugly’ land in the Green Belt, also known as ‘grey belt’.

Pennycook also made it clear that reforms to the compulsory purchase rules are necessary if Labour is to meet its housing targets.

This could help government agencies such as municipalities to purchase land for housing more cheaply.

Expropriation occurs when a government agency can force a landowner to sell his land so that new homes can be built.

Currently, some landowners can charge huge amounts of money based on the value the land will eventually have when planning permission is granted and it is converted into housing.

Grey Belt: Labour targets 'ugly' green belt in mission to build more homes

Grey Belt: Labour targets ‘ugly’ green belt in mission to build more homes

According to analysis by Capital Economics, farmland in the UK is worth an average of £25,000 per hectare, while development land with planning permission is worth an average of £1.95 million. That’s around 80 times more.

Pennycook said: ‘A large part of the pressure on development is caused by the cost of land, so we need to make further changes to the CPO to ensure that the market price of the land when putting together and bringing forward development is based on a fair price.

‘Currently, certain government agencies have discretionary powers when they apply to the Secretary of State for special permission. But that is an extra layer of the building permit, which slows down the system.

“We want a number of public bodies to have the assurance that they can use this specific power so that we can drive more development across the country.”

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