Manningham HA‘s Bradford base borders the new housing minister’s Pudsey constituency. So what does CEO Lee Bloomfield expect from the neighbour now charged with national housing policy?
I watched with particular interest as Stuart Andrew was announced as the new Housing Minister, the 15th holder of that post since 2005.
Despite frequent pleas from the housing association sector to allow the incumbent to stay in the job for long enough to make an impact, Christopher Pincher’s departure had been widely predicted. However, a job swap with Mr Andrew was more of a surprise.
A former Leeds city councillor, Stuart Andrew was elected as the MP for Pudsey in 2010 with an already established reputation as a staunch campaigner against ‘excessive developments.’
In a statement issued to the local media following his appointment as Housing Minister, Mr Andrew – a landlord himself – spoke proudly not just of his “keen interest in housing” but also in “the planning system” – a key weapon in the armoury of any anti ‘excessive development’ campaigner.
He continued: “I want to ensure we truly level up, and I firmly believe that housing is rooted at the heart of this.”
Ah yes, levelling up, that mythical concept which, alongside a commitment to “get Brexit done,” propelled Boris Johnson’s government to electoral success in 2019.
One would be forgiven for believing the 332-page Levelling Up White Paper might have shone more light on the subject than turned out to be the case. What we ended up with was a long-winded, largely unfocussed document with blurred ambitions. Despite the series of delays to its publication date, it also arrived unaccompanied by the level of new funding required to make a real difference in left-behind communities.
The new Housing Minister’s statement went on: “Homeownership is central to social mobility, and it is my steadfast belief that everyone should have the opportunity to live in a good and safe home.”
I wholeheartedly agree. However, homeownership sadly remains far beyond the means of so many people housing associations such as Manningham – which focuses primarily on Bradford and Keighley – are privileged to serve. And that is before the cost of living crisis really begins to bite.
The Levelling Up White Paper states that “there is a significant unmet need for social housing, leaving people paying high rents in the private rented sector unable to save for a home of their own.”
So why no mention of social housing in the new Housing Minister’s media statement? Instead, he chose to trot out the familiar mantra which so many of his predecessors have preached before leaving with little to show in concrete terms – literally – from their brief periods in the role.
For those unfamiliar with the geography of West Yorkshire, Pudsey borders on Bradford, hence my familiarity with Mr Andrew and his work.
Bradford district has been at the sharp end of disappointments and broken promises from governments of different political hues over many years. As recently as November, the current administration chose not to build a new Northern Powerhouse Rail link between Leeds and Manchester which would have included a through the station in Bradford city centre.
Challenged on this decision at Prime Minister’s Questions earlier this month, Boris Johnson managed to confuse the now partial upgrade of the Leeds to Manchester route with HS2. He also mixed up Leeds with Bradford.
Responding to a query from Bradford West MP Naz Shah, he said: “What we are saying is that we will look at ways in which we can ensure that we protract the eastern leg of High-Speed Rail from north of Birmingham to Bradford.” In reality, HS2 – or “High-Speed Rail” as he referred to it – was never due to reach Bradford. However, it was supposed to come to Leeds before the government reneged on that commitment too.
Stuart Andrew has been handed what should be one of the most cherished ministerial positions in Whitehall. He can make a real difference by helping to deliver many new affordable homes and other opportunities that individuals and families from deprived communities have missed out on for far too long.
People in Bradford and Keighley, including large numbers from BAME communities, want the chance to achieve their individual potentials through greater access to education and training, more good jobs and a decent place to live.
I want these aspiring individuals to aspire, succeed and lead fulfilling lives. I hope the new Housing Minister agrees and takes the actions necessary to enable them to do so.