Communities secretary Greg Clark has said the vote to leave the European Union will “turbo-charge” the devolution agenda.
Speaking to Construction News, Mr Clark said incoming prime minister Theresa May was “absolutely committed” to devolving power further and that Brexit would only add to the momentum.
He said: “The devolution agenda is incredibly important and I think it will be turbo-charged following the Brexit vote because if you’re taking powers away from Brussels, then it would be the wrong thing for it to default back to Westminster and Whitehall – it should go to the lowest level possible.”
Mrs May said in speech on Monday that she wanted “a plan to help not one or even two of our great regional cities but every single one of them”, which some commentators interpreted as suggesting she will focus less on the chancellor George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse agenda.
But Mr Clark said: “What we’ve created in the last two years, through the combined authorities and the mayors, is a very powerful set of local leaders covering very rational economic geography, with businesses closely involved.
“There’s never been a better time… for local leadership to take on investment and drive growth locally.”
In a speech to the Federation of Master Builders’ 75th Anniversary Reception at the House of Lords yesterday, Mr Clark cited the importance of housebuilding to the economy, and the need to increase the output of SME housebuilders in order to meet government’s target of delivering one million homes by 2020.
When asked by Construction News if he would like to see a dedicated housing minister in the Cabinet following this week’s anticipated reshuffle, the communities secretary said the current arrangements worked well and that he expected to see housebuilding decision-making devolved further.
“It’s for the prime minister to decide on the arrangements for government, but making sure you have devolution, housing, planning and local government all joined up is very important. I’ve found having [those responsibilities] incredibly powerful in bringing these strands together,” he said.
“On the subject of devolution, now we’ve got these devolved arrangements in the big cities and beyond, we’re now negotiating the next round of devolution deals, and I expect to see housebuilding centre stage in those devolution deals.”
Mr Clark also responded to a National Audit Office report which said the government must speed up its disposal of public land if it is to hit its 160,000-home target by 2020.
He said: “We’re making very good progress in terms of getting the land released, but there’s more to do.
“I think, in particular, local councils have strong encouragement to look at their land holdings to see what they can release. One of the changes we made in the local government financial settlement was to allow them to use the proceeds of asset disposals to help them with their budgets – something they’ve been campaigning for.
“There’s every reason for them to want to help to release land.”