Theresa May’s appointment of Alok Sharma as the new housing and planning minister is something of a surprise: the role normally goes to someone who has served as a councillor or has experience of local government, which Sharma lacks.
There is some evidence of his views on housing and planning issues. Sharma spoke in the second reading debate on the Localism Bill to welcome the removal of ‘top down’ housing targets: “The perception is that there is little upside for local communities in taking larger developments in their area. All such developments seem to offer is more traffic, more congestion, more pressure on local public services, the loss of valuable green spaces and amenities, and a detrimental impact on the local environment. Overall, the current planning system seems to lead, in many larger development proposals, to a gladiatorial contest, pitting local residents against the might and resources of developers.”
Sharma also publicly welcomed the National Planning Policy Framework when it was published in October 2011, but he has not made a habit of speaking on the subject since then.
In local work in his constituency he is happy to highlight his work against development of green spaces, and in cutting back the scale of the Bath Road Reservoir site in Reading. His election leaflets in 2017 included a five point plan, of which point four was “Champion sustainable housing development, whilst continuing to protect valuable green spaces like Pincent Hill”.
Born in Agra, India in 1967, Sharma grew up in Earley and Whitley Wood in Reading. He attended the fee-paying Reading Blue Coat School and then studied physics and electronics at Salford University; however he chose to make his career with Coopers & Lybrand Deloitte as a chartered accountant. He worked in banking for Nikko Securities and then for 15 years with Enskilda Securities – working in London, Stockholm and Frankfurt.
When he returned to the UK in 2003 after four years in Germany, he became more interested in politics. After the 2005 election his wife suggested he should try for a seat in Parliament, and Sharma was selected for his home seat of Reading West in November 2006 – the first time he had stood for selection. After a long campaign, he won the seat in the 2010 general election, gaining it from Labour.
In Parliament he initially joined the Science and Technology Select Committee. Sharma was appointed as Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party with responsibility for BME Communities by then party chairman Grant Shapps in 2012; he was also co-chairman of Conservative Friends of India. Later in the Parliament he served briefly on the Treasury Select Committee, concentrating on reform of the banking sector. After the 2015 election he became Parliamentary Private Secretary to Oliver Letwin as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and in 2016 was named as the Prime Minister’s Infrastructure Envoy to India
Sharma supported a remain vote in the 2016 referendum on membership of the European Union, and was subsequently an early backer of Theresa May in the Conservative leadership race. He was rewarded with a Ministerial promotion as a junior Foreign Office Minister with responsibility for Asia and the Pacific.
Greg Hands has been made Minister for London in the post election reshuffle, while retaining his post as Minister of State in the Department of International Trade, with responsibility for Trade and Investment. Hands read Modern History at Cambridge and is a speaker of German, French, Czech and Slovak; he is very interested in political developments in other European countries. Hands had a career in the City as a derivatives trader before going into politics.
Hands was first involved in local politics when elected to Hammersmith and Fulham Council in 1998; he won the seat previously held by the leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the Council. A year later he was elected Leader of the Conservative Group on the council, but in 2002 was selected as Parliamentary candidate for the marginal seat of Hammersmith and Fulham. He handed over the council group leadership to Stephen Greenhalgh who succeeded in winning control of the borough in 2006. Meanwhile Hands had gained his seat in the 2005 general election, and since 2010 has represented the safe seat of Chelsea and Fulham. He was a member of the Communities and Local Government Select Committee from June 2006 to May 2010.
He has had a varied ministerial career; from 2015-2016 he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury and prior to this he was in the Whips Office for four years. Hands was one of the more enthusiastic Conservative supporters of a ‘remain’ vote in the referendum; after initial caution he backed Theresa May in the leadership election. His association with David Cameron and his delay in rallying to Theresa May meant he was demoted from the Cabinet in her reshuffle and given a second rank role in Liam Fox’s department.