Who’s who in the new cabinet - and what architects think

Architects have given a mixed reaction to Theresa May’s new cabinet, with some welcoming the stability it could herald but others alarmed by its “hard-right” constitution.

Key appointments for architecture include:

Communities secretary (DCLG includes housing, planning, local government and responsibility for the Architects’ Act) – Sajid Javid. Former business secretary and briefly culture secretary. Last summer he unveiled plans to give ministers the power to seize disused land and also aimed to cut the red tape around planning to fast-track housing projects. In December he launched the Cutting Red Tape Review, building on the work of the housing implementation task force and giving those involved in the sector a voice as part of a £10bn deregulation drive.

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (includes energy infrastructure like Hinkley and construction policy) – Greg Clark. Former communities secretary. DECC has been rolled into a new business department. The restructure has been interpreted as a demotion for energy and climate change policy and attacked by environmentalists, but Clark is known to take climate change seriously, so there is hope the green agenda will not be forgotten as part of the restructure.

Transport secretary – Chris Grayling. Former leader of the house and before that justice secretary. A supporter of HS2 and Heathrow.

Education secretary (expanded to include universities and skills as well as priority school building programme) – Justine Greening. Formerly DFID and transport. Her constituency is under the Heathrow flight path and she has been a vocal opponent of its expansion. Took a close interest in Hawkins Brown’s plan to redevelop the 1950s listed Elliott School in Putney.

Justice secretary (prisons) – Liz Truss. Previously environment secretary.

Health secretary – Jeremy Hunt (no change)

Culture, Media & Sport secretary (includes listing buildings) – Karen Bradley. Previously a home office minister, she replaces John Whittingdale. She is a former accountant at KPMG. More is known about her sporting interests - Manchester City - than her cultural or architectural tastes.

Some of the individual briefs will be handled by junior ministers whose appointments have yet to be announced.

The profession reacts

Tom Holbrook, director of 5th Studio, said: “Theresa May’s opening speech sought to occupy the political centre ground, to reassure a nation clearly divided by the EU referendum. Nevertheless her appointed cabinet contradicts this One Nation Tory position, representing instead that true-blue blend of corporatism and parochialism, with some concerning repercussions for the environment. 

“In the most regressive move, the Department for Energy & Climate Change has been dismantled - in the very week that Lord Kreb’s independent Committee on Climate Change reported on real and present environmental dangers to the UK. Rather than having a bespoke role in government to address the greatest threat of our age, this responsibility has been uncomfortably distributed between energy, business and the Department of the Environment, the latter headed by Angela Leadsom, a climate change denier, who now has to negotiate an alternative to the Common Agricultural Policy.

“The Cameron Government presided over the fewest number of houses being built in the UK since the 1920s, despite being in the thick of a housing crisis. It’s hard to see how this dire situation will change unless the new Chancellor ditches austerity and promotes instead public investment in housing and infrastructure. 

“For a while it looked like transport might be merged with housing, planning and local government briefs to create a truly strategic body, however this more proactive role for the state in overcoming barriers to new housing and infrastructure, seems to have been strangled at birth. Where we could have seen a German-style proactive state, the appointment of Sajid Javid - an avowed anti regulationist- means we can expect more talk about ’getting the planners off our backs’. 

“A ray of light for me was the appointment of the intelligent and human Justine Greening as Education Secretary - incredibly the first minister in that role to have gone to a state-school. Greening will also take on higher education, redeeming universities from business at a time when creative thinking will be needed to prevent lasting damage through lost links with European students and research.

“In short plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose - the Bullingdon club has been (partly) dismantled, but still in place is the market-driven, libertarian, small state conservatism of the past eight years.”

Robin Nicholson, senior partner at Cullinan Studio, said the appointments looked “very political”.

“I am not sure I am relishing the prospect of Andrea Leadsom as environment secretary although it would be difficult for her to be as difficult or destructive as Eric Pickles.  Nevertheless one has to ask if the building regulations are in safe hands?

“When I am feeling optimistic I would say that there is a fantastic opportunity for a major programme of training for the housing programme (new build and retrofit) to substitute the migrant workers with British workers once they have been trained. That would be good for everyone but requires real leadership and investment, which is not what has been experiencing recently.”

John Assael, chairman of Assael Architecture, said: “I’m so relieved that we don’t have to wait until September to select a new prime minister - but the Labour Party is in such turmoil it means there’s no effective opposition and that is a disaster.”

Gary Whittle, MD of Broadway Malyan, said: “Whether you were in favour of leaving or remaining in the EU, there is little doubt that the headlines of the last few months have done few favours in the short term for UK plc.

“With that in mind, the fact that a new government has been installed so quickly and is being led by a prime minister with what appears to be a positive and internationalist outlook is to be welcomed and will go a long way to reassuring those who may be questioning the direction the UK is travelling.

“There is certainly an element of excitement in having a new government and new Chancellor Philip Hammond has been very clear that while there is a commitment to leave the EU, there will be no emergency budget and a period of review to ensure a sensible approach to our exit negotiations, which is particularly important to us with a number of European studios and a multi-national workforce. In this regard there are certainly interesting times ahead.

“There will be some big issues in the Prime Minister’s in tray that will have a major impact on our sector, not least taking radical steps to tackle the housing crisis and major infrastructure projects like HS2 and taking a decision on where to expand London’s airport capacity.

“The current economic realities mean that there is unlikely to be a radical increase in investment by this government but there is a real opportunity to advance new policies in key areas such as developing a coherent housing strategy that moves away from the localism agenda of the previous administration and brings forward a plan that will deliver housing where there is the greatest need and opportunity.

“The success of London is important to the whole of the UK and pushing the decision back on expanding one of the capital’s major airports cannot wait for another parliament. The Midlands and north of England are also important markets for Broadway Malyan and so continuing to take steps to rebalance the economy away from the south east should remain a priority and HS2 will be a critical tool in this process, not just from a transportation perspective but the further investment and regeneration it will attract.”  

Julie Hirigoyen, CEO of the UK Green Building Council, said: “The newly created Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy represents a golden opportunity to put sustainable business at the heart of jobs and prosperity. We warmly welcome the appointment of Greg Clark as its Secretary of State. As a priority he needs to provide reassurance to businesses so they can invest with confidence in a low carbon future.

“However, the loss of a dedicated climate change department has the potential to send the wrong signal to the international community.  The government needs to reconfirm its commitment to the Paris Agreement at the earliest opportunity.”

Phil Williams, president of the RTPI, said: “We look forward to working with Sajid Javid to deliver on his commitment to build more homes. We call on him to help provide the certainty the industry needs to continue to invest in housing and associated infrastructure. Given his financial background we look forward to sharing with him the ways in which planning can deliver housing, enable growth and create the jobs we need right across the country. We believe planning can play a central role in helping to deliver sustainable solutions. The RTPI will be writing to the new decretary of dtate to welcome him and outline how the planning profession can offer solutions towards the new government’s agendas on housing, low productivity, cities, devolution and infrastructure.”