Michael Gove has been put in charge of solving the UK’s housing crisis and overseeing planning reforms after he was moved by Boris Johnson from the Cabinet Office in the reshuffle.
As the new secretary of state at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, his brief includes decidingwhere and how new housing should be approved – a major overhaul announced by his predecessor, Robert Jenrick, that sparked anger in the Tory shires and on the backbenches.
Gove will retain responsibility for the union and elections, as well as taking on a new responsibility for levelling up. However, it will be considered a sideways move from his role as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster at the Cabinet Office.
In his new job, Gove will have to shape a new strategy to meet the government’s 300,000-a-year housing target after the government signalled a retreat from major planning liberalisation.
He has a recent record of objecting to housing developments in his own constituency. In 2019, he declared he was “deeply concerned” about plans to build a 1,500-home garden village on the site of Fairoaks airport, and in October 2020 he spoke at a planning appeal hearing against a scheme in Bagshot for 44 homes on a site zoned for housing by the Conservative council.
Almost half of the homes were to be affordable, but Gove reportedly complained to the planning inquiry on a video call and wrote to the department he now heads to say it would “alter the character of the village for the worse”.
The Planning Inspectorate, an executive agency of MHCLG, gave the scheme the go-ahead regardless.
On his first day in the job on Thursday, Gove will witness the impact of the unresolved post-Grenfell building safety crisis, as hundreds of leaseholders facing bills of up to £200,000 each protest in Westminster.
They are hopeful of inspiring a Conservative rebellion against the building safety bill, which Gove must steer through parliament in the coming months. They want to force an amendment to protect them from costs that MPs have estimated at £15bn, £10bn more than earmarked by Rishi Sunak’s Treasury.
He will also oversee local governments that are facing continuing pressures on their budgets.
Gove’s move away from the Cabinet Office to a lower cabinet rank may also reflect Johnson’s continuing lack of trust in his former Vote Leave colleague.
The two men fell out in 2016 after the Brexit referendum, when Gove sabotaged Johnson’s leadership bid by pulling out of his team and launching a campaign of his own.
He reentered the cabinet in 2017 but has never made a coveted great office of state.
Gove recently appeared dancing merrily in an Aberdeen nightclub, after reportedly trying to avoid a £5 entrance fee by stating that he was the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. He was also the subject of claims in the Independent this week that he made sexual comments, joked about paedophilia within top levels of government and used a racist slur in a series of remarks when he was in his 20s.
Gove, who entered the cabinet alongside David Cameron in 2010, has previously had the education, environment and justice portfolios, as well as a short period as chief whip.