Conservative Party Conference 2021
Over the past week CIOB’s policy and public affairs team attended the Conservative Party Annual Conference in Manchester.
Over the past week CIOB’s policy and public affairs team has been up (or for those members of the team based in Scotland, down) in Manchester attending the Conservative Party Annual Conference. Whilst many of the announcements during the four days of Conference were somewhat muted in light of the spending round that has taken place across the government departments, the team made the most of their time in the UK’s rainiest city.
This blog will take you through the various events, meetings and panels that the team attended or participated in Manchester.
Sunday 3 October 2021
The first day at Conference got off to a flying start as Eddie Tuttle, Director of Policy, Research and Public Affairs, met with Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak MP to discuss the levelling up agenda and its impact on the construction sector as well as the work that CIOB is doing to improve the quality of the built environment.
After several security checkpoints to enter the secure zone the team met, in some cases for the first time, to head into the secure zone ahead of the joint fringe event with our sister organisations, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). The joint event, titled – Ensuring Planning Reform Delivers Great Homes and Connected Communities featured guest speaker and current Housing Minister, Chris Pincher MP in addition to representatives from each body. The discussion focused on several pressing concerns in the industry including the much-anticipated planning reforms, Permitted Development Rights (PDR), post-pandemic recovery, appropriate resourcing for planning departments, modern methods of construction (MMC) and much more.
The event provided a much-needed opportunity for Chris Pincher MP to share the Government’s view on planning reforms as the rumour mill has continued to swell that the appointment as Michael Gove MP as Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities means that the planned reforms will not go ahead as anticipated.
During his opening address Mr Pincher stated that “the issue we are talking about today [planning reform] is at the heart of levelling up.” This shows us that the issue of planning reform is not going away, but it is still up for debate as to what form they will take. If you are interested in hearing the full debate you can watch the recording and read a summary of the event here.
After a well-deserved wander around Manchester Central to see the various stands, traders and coffee shops, the team split up to attend various receptions and events. One of these was the fantastic Centre for Cities: Conference Reception. During the event, attendees heard from Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council and Neil O’Brien MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Levelling Up about the challenges, positive impact and definition of levelling up.
According to Centre for Cities, levelling up can be defined as simultaneously improving standards of living across the country with the goal of narrowing the gap between health standards, education and public service provision across the UK, while also increasing productivity nationwide.
During the talk, Sir Richard Leese, spoke about the fascinating process that Manchester went through as a city to become the third most visited city in Europe, including reinvigorating the city by attracting young professionals to become innovative, and see a higher level of investment and spending from communities. Alongside this Mr O’Brien doubled down on the importance of levelling up as part of the Government’s agenda.
Following this, the team headed for a networking event at the All Party Parliamentary Group for Housing Market & Housing Delivery: Housing Industry Reception. The team were fortunate enough to speak to Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Councillor Abi Brown about her vision for Stoke as well as how she is planning to address government housing targets in the city.
Monday 4 October 2021
On Monday morning the team woke up refreshed and ready to go again, fuelled mostly by copious amount of coffee.
First on the agenda was a fringe event set up by Localis, featuring Chair of the Local Government Association, Councillor James Jamieson and David Simmonds MP. The event, titled – Building Communities – A Stewardship Model for Housing Led-Recovery, focused on ensuring that the upcoming planning reforms resulted in the creation of great new places to live and not just isolated, poorly built homes without accompanying infrastructure. During the event Victoria Hills, Chief Executive of the RTPI, stated that any future planning reforms, including the proposed plan-led system needs to encourage greater engagement from communities both in person and digitally so that future developments can account for what is really needed to make a development feel like a place. She added that, crucially, the key to creating great places to live is ensuring that the resources are available to local authorities to ensure that planning application and land allocations are properly scrutinised prior to permissions being granted.
Alongside this event, the team also attended one of the few events with the new Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove MP. The event, hosted by Pocket Living, entitled - Move Fast and Build Things: How Can We Innovate in Housing? focused on discussing possible innovative solutions to tackling the UK’s housing crisis.
Mr Gove highlighted the need to improve incentives and community engagement in the planning and construction process or else the country will not be able to achieve the ultimate goal of ‘building back better’. Mr Gove made it clear that, to achieve his vision of better community engagement for green spaces and amenities and the increase in incentives for undertaking projects, developers may see smaller profit margins, but it will create happier and healthier communities.
After this the team attended a fringe event hosted by the Centre for Policy Studies and Thakeham to hear from Eddie Hughes MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) on How Can SMEs Address the Housing Shortage?
This event is particularly timely, given the Government’s focus on diversifying the house building sector away from large scale housebuilders. During the debate, we highlighted to the Minister that “Engaging in Local Plan processes can often be time consuming, resource heavy, financially costly and ultimately uncertain. If we are to prioritise SMEs through a plan led process, who in many instances do not have time and resources, we need to change the plan process entirely. How do you propose we do this?”
Mr Hughes responded by stating that fundamental to the success of a plan-led reform is ensuring that there are more current, up-to-date Local Plans which can guide development. He added the need to ensure that the process of creating a local plan is streamlined and takes less time to ensure there is minimal uncertainty for those invested in a Local Plan.
The last fringe event of the day saw CIOB attending an event hosted by Natwest titled SMEs and the Road to Net Zero. Whilst Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP, Secretary of State for International Trade, was not in attendance as listed (likely due to the fact her new portfolio no longer included energy or net-zero), the event provided some interesting insights into the role of SMEs to tackle the climate emergency from a construction perspective.
During the event we raised the point that the construction industry must have a clear pipeline of activity to ensure that we grow the talent needed in areas, such as retrofitting sustainably, to meet net zero targets. With a large proportion of SMEs in construction who hire apprentices it is crucial that this is higher up on the Government’s agenda. The response from the panel was in large agreement and the panel noted that unfortunately the pandemic has set everyone back, including those leaving education, by almost two years. Therefore, it may take longer for industries such as construction to see new talent entering the market due to these delays.
Outside of attending fringe events CIOB held a meeting with Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders, to discuss professional standards, our joint campaigning on retrofitting and ensuring that our bodies continue to align on key issues across the construction sector.
Tuesday 5 October 2021
On Tuesday morning, Eddie Tuttle participated in a panel hosted by Built Environment Communications Group and Cavendish Advocacy. The panel discussed how Can the Construction Sector Meet the Demands of Building Back Better?
During the discussion Eddie highlighted that any debate on skills shortages in the industry was not a new one and that one of the key priorities for CIOB was to ensure that the quality of construction is improved through the planning reforms. To do this the industry should focus on new regulations and creating training programmes to provide the necessary upskilling. Eddie also noted the opportunities for new roles under the Building Safety Bill and the need for any future planning reforms to be aligned with building safety.
Much of the debate focused on the role of MMC in addressing the UK’s housing shortage. During the event, Marco Longhi MP stated that the industry needs to lead the way in building back better and it was not for the Government to step in. Mr Longhi also encouraged innovation, stating that MMC was a good avenue for the sector to pursue but the industry had to overcome existing pre-conceptions to strive for modernisation. This point was echoed by Mark Farmer, Government Champion for MMC who spoke about how MMC can be seen as a positive force in driving wholesale change in the industry.
The latter half of 2021 has been encapsulated by feelings of trying to return to some semblance of normality after the many ups and downs of 2020 and Conservative Party Conference was no exception. Party Conference provided a fantastic opportunity to engage with policy makers and our sister bodies, many of whom we have not been able to meet due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We will now seek to develop relationships with many of the stakeholders that we met during Conference and continue to push the importance of the construction industry and wider built environment in Government.
It is clear that levelling up is at the heart of the Conservative Party’s agenda as there were no fewer than thirty eight fringe events with levelling up in the title. We encourage all members to keep a close eye out for future publications from the team as there will likely be much more to report on the finer details of how levelling up can be achieved in the near future.
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Separately, if you are interested in being more involved in our campaigning and policy work then we encourage you to apply to become part of CIOB’s External Affairs Advisory Board. Further details can be found here.