Debates between Lord Bishop of Derby and Lord Blunkett during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 27th Mar 2023

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Debate between Lord Bishop of Derby and Lord Blunkett
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”

to

“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.