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Bigging up extensions and putting down councils, and what has happened to Mr Prisk?

Construction National blog logoSo David Cameron and Nick Clegg are going to get Britain building again. Cameron said his Government is serious about rolling its sleeves up and doing all it can to kick-start the economy. So they came together to announce...the relaxation of planning rules on extensions! That is great news for people who build extensions, of course – provided that their prospective customers, freed from the jack-booted oppression of petty minded officialdom in town halls across the country, can actually afford to build them.

To be fair, there are some things that will boost housebuilding. The extension of the FirstBuy scheme is to be welcomed, even if it only applies to new builds. There are elements, however, that seem to display a desire to hand public money to private developers: the mooted Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill, for instance, that will guarantee "the debt of housing associations and private-sector developers" (my emphasis).

Much of the well-trailed BIG announcement just seems to be another Thatcherite council-bashing exercise, with talk of 'poor' councils (They're all poor, and whose fault is that?). There was further hyperbole, such as: "Developers who can prove that council's costly affordable housing requirements make the project unviable will see them removed" and "...where councils are poor at processing decisions, developers can opt to have their decision taken by the Planning Inspectorate."

What they mean by the former is that the requirement for affordable housing will be scrapped. What the latter implies I shudder to think.

It's no accident the dynamic duo were accompanied by Eric Pickles. There was no sign of new housing minister Mark Prisk. Maybe they were keeping him on the bench until he beds in, like a new football signing.

The admirable Mr Prisk is possibly the first Housing Minister to have actually worked in the industry: he is a Chartered Surveyor (non-practising, it says in his register of interests) and at one point was the minister for construction. The DCLG website, however, has only one mention of his name – from January 2011 when he was Minister for Industry at BIS. Maybe the officials at DCLG are taking their cue from IDS and have become reshuffle deniers.

Despite his departmental cloak of invisibility, Mr Prisk's appointment was welcomed by the RIBA, the HBF and the NHBC.

And talking of the NHBC, by the end of this evening the first winners of the Regional Awards in that body's annual Pride in the Job competition will have been announced. First round winners from the London and South East region will be assembling at the Hilton Brighton Metropole as I write this. It is the first in a series of events around the country between now and 2 November, which will also reveal the 100-or-so winners of the second-round Seal of Excellence awards. We wish them all the best of luck.

Chris Stokes

First posted 7 September 2012, this article was re-posted on 11 September.