Roger Humber applauds Blair for ditching the DETR
The big post-election story in the popular press was the sacking of Robin Cook. But just as dramatic was the sacking of two government departments.

The DETR and MAFF were badly failing departments. In Tony Blair's major shake-up of Whitehall they have been abolished and their conflicting functions scattered to the winds – or, at least, to new departments that can promote important areas of policy.

From the point of view of the development, housebuilding and construction industries, the DETR was a disaster. While claiming to be their sponsoring ministry it was, in reality, the sponsor for a ragbag of environmental and single-issue pressure groups and a regulator of the industry and its adopted causes. It encouraged the misuse of building regulations for social engineering while falling prey to environmentalist fashions and scaremongering.

Worst of all, it lost sight of its key responsibilities to the economy as a whole – the need for an effective planning system to deliver key infrastructure, development to support growth and sufficient housing. The DETR's abolition should give courage to those in the industry to criticise planning policy and performance. They must take up this cause with renewed enthusiasm.

However, there are big caveats on an otherwise exciting period of opportunity. The role of the deputy prime minister's department will be critical. He appears to have a mediating role where policies might clash. But his record at the DETR in adjudicating between environmental and development priorities was not encouraging.

And what is the punching power of the three key ministers – Margaret Beckett, Stephen Byers and Patricia Hewitt – and their team, both vis-à-vis each other and John Prescott? None are real heavyweights, at least on their showing to date.

The redeployment of DETR civil servants will also be critical. To make this work, new officials, untainted by DETR, are needed in planning, housing, urban regeneration and construction.

This reorganisation could be a great opportunity for the development industry. The overriding question still remains how ministers would handle the politics of such a shift. It defeated them in their first term and they were seriously derailed by anti-development sentiment. Will a second term with the same external and internal pressures produce the same result?