2 Lord Bishop of Derby debates involving the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities

Mon 22nd Apr 2024
Mon 27th Mar 2023
It is important to remember in this particular context that leasehold properties owned by non-UK registered companies are concentrated in prime properties in central London. My amendment would provide protections for those properties and the businesses that occupy them, and for streetscapes and high streets of particular national importance, by securing long-term single ownership which is not fractured and does not deteriorate. As part of the reform, the Bill should mitigate this by introducing the additional requirement that, to qualify as a leaseholder entitled to go down the collective enfranchisement route, the property cannot be held by a non-UK registered company or any type of company structure.
Lord Bishop of Derby Portrait The Lord Bishop of Derby
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My Lords, I will speak in support of my right reverend friend the Bishop of Manchester, who is unable to be in his place today and who has asked me to speak to his opposition that Clause 28 stand part of the Bill. This is linked to a similar stand-part debate, in the name of my right reverend friend, relating to Clause 47, to be debated later in Committee.

I declare my interest as a beneficiary, as is my diocese, of the Church Commissioners. I thank the Minister for her engagement with the charities affected by the legislation so far: the Church Commissioners, John Lyon’s Charity, Portal Trust, Campden Charities, Merchant Taylors’ Boone’s Charity, Dulwich Estate and the London Diocesan Fund. I hope she will continue to engage with my right reverend friend to find an amicable solution.

The Church Commissioners for England are the freeholders of the Hyde Park Estate. If we are looking back a long way, the Church can look back longer than most. The Church has had a long relationship with that part of London, starting in 1550 when the Bishop of London was granted the manor. The first leases were granted in 1795, and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners became responsible for the estate in 1868. Like the other charities mentioned, the Church Commissioners have long relationships with their estate. The money generated from the estate beyond the local is used for the betterment of the whole of our society, by the levelling up of communities and the lowest income parishes across the country, including in the diocese of Derby.

Like the other charity freeholders of large estates, the Church Commissioners manage the whole area, focusing not only on the residential properties themselves but on the whole environment, for those who live in, work on and visit the area. Their freehold ownership includes approximately 100 commercial units on the estate, where independent cafés, specialist boutiques and restaurants are mixed alongside amenities for local residents. This by no means affects the Church Commissioners alone; other large freeholders across London and beyond use their mixed freeholdings to ensure that areas have what local residents need, such as a dry cleaners, a pub, a hardware store—I could go on.

I thank the Minister for her letter to my right reverend friend the Bishop of Manchester, received today. However, concerns remain that Clause 28 threatens the ability of freeholders in large estate areas to ensure mixed areas that have all the amenities that people need. If the threshold for collective enfranchisement and the right to manage claims is lowered so that more mixed blocks can initiate a claim, there is a risk of the degeneration of these areas. There is no guarantee that newly enfranchised blocks will have the wherewithal or even the desire to maintain the make-up of the estate area. Leaseholders may not even live permanently in the area, may be foreign-owned companies or may have no active stake in the community. What need would these companies or corporations have to ensure the maintenance of a community? My right reverend friend the Bishop of Manchester said at Second Reading of this Bill that:

“We would lose all the shops that really matter to those who live perhaps not just in that block, but”—[Official Report, 27/3/24; col. 737.]

in the locality.

The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, which would mean that right to manage and collective enfranchisement rule changes would apply only where 50% of the leaseholders are permanent residents in a block, would certainly be a step in the right direction. At least there would be a guarantee that those managing mixed blocks would have an active stake in maintaining community resources, including shops. Could the Minister tell us whether the Government could make proposals to ensure that great estate areas, such as the Hyde Park Estate and others, are not adversely affected? Nobody wants to see local shops, amenities and community hubs closing as an unintended consequence of the Bill.

Lord Thurlow Portrait Lord Thurlow (CB)
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My Lords, I turn to my Amendment 18 in this group. I begin by declaring my interests as both the owner of two buy-to-let investment flats and the occupier of a flat, all on leases. I stand to benefit under the Bill in both situations, which is quite patently wrong.

I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby for articulating my amendment with greater ability than I can. I want to turn specifically to mixed-use buildings and the proposal to move from a 25% threshold for enfranchisement to 50%, and build on the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst. Mine is a straightforward proposal: simply that lessees who are not occupiers living there as their primary residence should not benefit from the great wealth transfer that is going to take place through the enfranchisement process. It cannot be an intended consequence of the Bill.

My amendment requires that at least 50% of leaseholders should satisfy the residence occupancy condition for any collective enfranchisement to apply. I remind the Committee that I am thinking of mixed-use buildings. A very complex management expertise is required in looking after mixed-use buildings; the skills are not the same for commercial property as for residential property, and the scope for mistakes and delay is huge. The potential to improve and curate an environment through single ownership of an expansive area has been very clearly described. To expect such behaviour to continue responsibly is almost impossible under the Bill as it stands.

We have also heard that, in London and the south-east, some 50% of tenants are not residents but foreign nationals living elsewhere, with ownership registered abroad. Are they taxpayers? This group often do not want to be identified. They shroud their property in ownership interests in offshore companies, as we have heard. They are very slow to respond, doing so from time to time, let alone to offer up money when required. If the Government do not agree that 50% of leaseholders in a block should be permanent residents, can I have an informed estimate on how many billions of pounds is expected to be paid in compensation to this cohort of wealthy foreign nationals, should they pursue this new enfranchisement entitlement?

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Lord Bishop of Derby Excerpts
Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, in his amendments, and join the noble Lord, Lord Stunell and Lord Young, in doing so. I spoke on the Healthy Homes Bill on Friday morning, so I will try to not repeat all of it, because some Members here in Committee will have been there on that occasion. I will just say that designing for the future and retrofitting for the present go hand in hand. It is a no-brainer that homes need to be both warm and well ventilated. It is a no-brainer that the community around the dwellings we have and those we build needs to be both sustainable and a contributor to the health and well-being of those living in those homes.

I recall one small occasion when my predecessor as leader of Sheffield City Council was getting deeply frustrated at the cost of building. He decided to design his own bungalow on the back of fag packet. This bungalow’s heating was to be provided by a gas fire that was strategically placed so that when the door of the one bedroom was open, it would heat the lounge, the bedroom and, if you were lucky, might get some heat into the small kitchen as well. When I took over, I am afraid we decided not to go ahead with these mini-dwellings, but we tried to put in standards that would be lasting, supportive of the well-being of individuals and their families, and sustainable in terms of the different uses to which they would be put.

In the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, the word “safety” is also used. We should be planning, as we age, to stay in dwellings—as well as moving to more suitable accommodation—because they have been planned or redesigned to allow that. Doing it from the beginning is obviously a great deal more affordable, but doing it now will save an enormous amount of resources in future. I said, on the Healthy Homes Bill, that if in Lanarkshire and west Yorkshire, Rowntree and Cadbury, and even Wedgwood—who was not the greatest of employers but understood entirely that his workers could not come to work and be able to work if they did not live in healthy homes—could do that all those years ago, surely we can get it right now. It is beholden on us to ensure that the guidance and support from the centre encourages the best possible practice at local level.

To finish, one of my very long-standing friends was canvassing in the local elections in Sheffield a week or two ago. He came across a Labour Party member who said she was not going to vote Labour on this occasion. When he asked why, she said it was because the Labour Party would impose 15-minute neighbourhoods in which people would be forced to live in a very confined area, and she was against it. Well, I am against it as well; it is not Labour Party policy. So I will put a word out as a vice president of the TCPA. When planners come up with very good ideas about how we should be able to reach good facilities easily and in a carbon-neutral way, and when we encourage people to rebuild the communities of the past in new ways—as people would aspire to do in villages if, as we discussed last Monday, they were not being taken over by holiday homes—we have to be very careful in the language we use, because there are people on the internet who believe that the best intentions of many people are somehow a conspiracy. We live in a crazy world; we need to get it right.

Lord Bishop of Derby Portrait The Lord Bishop of Derby
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My Lords, I am glad that today we have the opportunity to consider the health and well-being dimensions of planning. It is my view that development planning cannot be truly successful if it does not also enhance health and well-being. I speak first in favour of Amendment 188 and Amendments 394 to 399 from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp. The right reverend Prelates the Lord Bishop of London, the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford, the Lord Bishop of Manchester and the Lord Bishop of Carlisle, who have previously spoken on these issues, regret they cannot be in their place today. However, I have no doubt they would want to give their support to these amendments were they in the Chamber.

I am sure noble Lords will recall stories of what can happen when living conditions deteriorate. Awaab Ishak’s death in December 2020 from a respiratory condition caused by “extensive mould” was an incredibly tragic story, as was that of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah’s death, partly caused by toxic air near where she lived. It is welcome that the Government are working to deliver Awaab’s Law through the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill and that Ella’s Law, the Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill, continues its journey through Parliament in the other place.

Today, we have the opportunity to put health and well-being at the heart of regulating our built environment: an essential step to preventing such awful outcomes and instead facilitating the flourishing of individuals and communities. The amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, set out the healthy homes principles for new housing stock. Those 11 principles range from safety

“in relation to the risk of fire”


“year-round thermal comfort”

and more. Surely these are planning standards that we all can agree are good to uphold.

Not only that but, as we have heard, these principles would significantly benefit the public purse. Research by the Building Research Establishment found that 2.6 million homes in England—roughly 11% of them—were of poor quality and hazardous to their occupants. As a result, those poor-quality homes cost the NHS, as we have heard, up to £1.4 billion every year. My view echoes that of the Archbishops’ housing commission that

“good housing should be sustainable, safe, stable, sociable and satisfying”.

Such housing would significantly reduce the strain placed on the NHS. I believe these amendments to be a valuable addition to this Bill.

The Government have acknowledged that housing and health are key to the levelling-up agenda. However, the Bill as it stands contains no clear provisions that achieve that objective. I echo the challenge to the assertion made by the Minister’s all-Peers letter of 27 January that the healthy homes provisions are being dealt with by existing laws or alternative policy. While the NPPF and national technical housing standards cover some elements of issues addressed by these principles, these are not mandatory legal duties for local decision makers, and nor is there an overall statutory duty on the Secretary of State to uphold the healthy homes principles. Therefore, I hope the Government will accept these amendments.

Amendment 241, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Young, would also be an invaluable addition to the Bill. Its introduction of a new statutory duty to reduce health inequalities and improve well-being would also help the Government to address poor health, described in their own levelling up White Paper, as we have heard, as

“One of the gravest inequalities faced by our most disadvantaged communities”.

By requiring local authorities to include policies that meet this objective in their local development plans, his amendment will help to transform our built environments into spaces that help create good health and well-being, and, as such, reduce health inequalities.

As pointed out by the Better Planning Coalition, this proposed new clause is a necessary addition given that pre-existing documents and provisions have not been sufficient to stop the growing health inequalities in recent years. I refer to research by Professor Sir Michael Marmot of the Institute of Health Equity, which found that the health gap between wealthy and deprived areas grew between 2010 and 2020. I therefore hope that the Minister will consider this amendment.

Baroness Hayman Portrait Baroness Hayman (CB)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as co-chair of Peers for the Planet and the fact that I have a family member currently working in the energy efficiency space. I added my name to Amendment 484, which was so comprehensively explained by the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Best. It concerns an important and underrecognised area in terms of climate change and the reduction of emissions. I hope that the Minister will take it very seriously.

I have tabled Amendment 504GF in this group, which deals with the urgent need to make progress in energy efficiency through a warmer homes and businesses action plan. The contributions already made today show clearly the synergy between the amendments on healthy homes and my amendment on energy efficiency. The health of those who live in the UK’s housing stock which is damp, cold or leaky, and worse than the housing stock in most of Europe, is impacted day in and day out by the conditions in which they live. We should all be concerned about this, but it is not only the health of those of our fellow citizens that would be addressed by taking action on energy efficiency, such as insulation or new forms of heating.

Investing in insulation and decarbonisation has many other benefits for individuals and society. It reduces costs not only for bill payers but for the taxpayer, who is currently spending vast sums subsidising energy bills through the energy price guarantee. It helps to reduce greenhouse gases and improve our air quality. It contributes to our net-zero target and, in an increasingly unstable world, electrifying the heat in our homes and making them energy efficient has become an issue of national security as well. Yet we appear as a nation to be in a position of stasis on energy efficiency.

Short-term scheme after short-term scheme underdelivers, damaging confidence that the wider task can be achieved. Scandalously, hundreds of thousands of homes are being built every year which will require future retrofitting because we did not implement the standards early enough. We have our most vulnerable citizens living in fuel poverty in cold and leaky homes. We have an industry largely waiting for confirmation from the Government before they get on with what will be a huge job of scaling up the market and developing the skills we need. Insulating, retrofitting and installing low-carbon technology all play a significant role, but so too do the planning system, funding and government leadership. We need to make the progress that will bring with it good jobs, economic security and benefits in reducing our carbon emissions.