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LONDON-Governmental responsibilities for the property industry have been split following Tony Blair’s post-election government reshuffle. Although Nick Raynsford, the minister who made lease reform a personal priority in the last parliament, has moved, the prospect of lease reform still looms large.

The monolithic Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, created by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott when Labour came to power in 1997, has been broken up. Environmental issues move over to a newly formed Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that replaces the discredited MAFF.

And responsibility for construction moves to the Department of Trade and Industry, along with control of the Regional Development Agencies. In a Downing Street briefing the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said that, as economic motors for change, it made sense for them both to be at the DTI.

What is left of the DETR becomes the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions. With Prescott moving into a newly-formed office in Downing Street, the new department is headed by ex-Trade Secretary Stephen Byers.

From a property point of view the most significant appointment is Planning and Housing Minister Lord Falconer. Charlie Falconer is best known as the ‘Dome Secretary’ – the man tasked with trying to salvage some Government credibility out of the Millennium Dome fiasco.

Born 19 November 1951, Falconer was educated at Trinity College, Glenamond and then at Queen’s College, Cambridge. As a young lawyer Falconer was Tony Blair’s flat-mate, and he is widely seen as one of the Prime Minister’s closest allies. He has recently spoken on urban regeneration issues but his stance on the biggest issue facing property – lease reform – remains to be seen.

One clue may lie in the continued presence of Falconer’s predecessor Nick Raynsford in the department, now as Local Government Minister. Towards the end of the last parliament Raynsford led an energetic campaign to reform the UK’s antiquated property laws, with abolition of the upwards-only rent review his prime target. He convened a working party made of property investors and occupiers to investigate alternatives to the current system but it broke up acrimoniously at the end of March 2001, having failed to agree on a new approach.

Raynsford had threatened to legislate if the property industry could not reach a voluntary agreement, and many investors had hoped that he would be removed following the election, to be replaced by a minister with less interventionist instincts.

Whether Charlie Falconer is such a man only time will tell, but a Downing Street spokesman said: ‘Both the Prime Minister and Lord Falconer thought it right for him to take on a departmental job with a real policy focus. The Prime Minister had a very high regard for Lord Falconer’s abilities. This job involves a lot of detail and he has a very fine legal mind. This was a good opportunity to have him operating outside the centre and dealing with a very serious policy agenda.’

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