OPINION: Our new, NIMBY housing minister

Russell Quirk

On Saturday 6th July, barely 24 hours after Keir Starmer strolled into Downing Street as a victorious Prime Minister, a new Minister Of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities was appointed.

Newly elected Matthew Pennycook MP is our latest Housing Minister and reports to Secretary of State Angela Rayner. He has special responsibility for housing but tellingly it appears that his role will not attend Cabinet. It’s my view that the housing brief and in particular the country’s (lack of) supply of new builds is so crucial that this position should sit in Cabinet yet that is an upgrade that the PM has not deemed a priority.

So, who is Matthew Pennycook? What does his history as a politician suggest he will be like?

Matthew Thomas Pennycook is 41 years old and was educated at a state school in New Malden. He has a somewhat ambiguous degree in History and International relations and could be described as ‘academically smart’.

He was elected as Labour Member of Parliament for Greenwich and Woolwich in the 2015 General Election and prior was a councillor in Greenwich from 2010 until the House of Commons beckoned.

So far, I’m not seeing a solid housing experience in his CV albeit that almost none of the previous regiment of Housing Ministers under the Conservatives had any such experience either.

But here’s the thing. Pennycook does have form on property matters – and it’s not exactly a record that’s conducive with the Labour Party’s election pledge to build 1.5M new homes over the next five years, a 50% uplift in what’s been delivered in the last five.

Our new minister is a NIMBY.

“It is crucial that as many local residents as possible who have concerns about this development proposal, and who have not previously submitted concerns to the council, object”, he told the local press in August 2020 in relation to a small block of flats that was proposed to be built in Charlotte Turner Gardens, SE8. The planning application was later rejected.

Matthew Pennycook

And in 2021, no doubt sensing some anti-development momentum Mr Pennycook formally objected to 1500 new homes in a mixed use scheme planned at Morden Wharf in his constituency, 600 of which would have been affordable and social homes. 1100 jobs would have been created, says the developer.

If this all sounds a bit familiar, successive Conservative Ministers would entice about the virtues of ‘more new homes’ needed across Britain but when faced with new homes in the areas that they represented, would object for fear of upsetting the locals. It’s hypocrisy of the most two-faced kind and is one of the reasons why the UK hasn’t built enough new houses since the early 1960’s. 

Then in March 2022, Pennycock argued that housing supply is not a “panacea for affordability”. 

You can make up your own mind from Matthew Pennycook’s actions, and his words, whether you think he will be a different, effective Housing Minister in Starmer’s new administration.

To ensure thoroughness I’ve also taken a look at ‘Mr NIMBY’s’ voting record in Parliament on other matters. 

He generally voted against reducing the rate of corporation tax

Consistently voted against stronger tax incentives for companies to invest in assets

Consistently voted against making it easier to remove those trespassing on land with an intent to reside there

Generally voted for more EU integration

Consistently voted against reducing capital gains tax

On the subject of housing, if you were anticipating a Labour government would genuinely be about change as is their campaign mantra, it looks like you might be disappointed. 

Still, fewer new homes provided means higher house prices and therefore higher agency fees and so Matthew’s potential ineffectiveness might actually be a good thing for our sector.

As you were then. 

Russell Quirk is co-founder of ProperPR, the property focussed public relations agency, and is a regular media commentator on housing and politics. 

New housing minister named

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