Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Excerpts
Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB)
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My Lords, I, too, welcome the two noble Lords who made their maiden speeches today, and I draw attention to the issue of intergenerational fairness and housing that the latter speech covered. I declare my interests as outlined in the register. I broadly welcome the mission of the Bill, but like other noble Lords, I believe that constructive amendments are needed to improve the likelihood of it achieving its expected outcomes. In particular, the Bill could be strengthened through simplifying the devolution of power, including finance, to the local place-based organisations outlined.

I live in Devon, and in the 10 miles due south from my village, there is a reduction in life expectancy of one year for every mile—that is, 10 years. This disparity indicates that levelling up is not about the north of England and the south, but between neighbourhoods in cities and rural areas, where villages’ housing stock has become so expensive that local people cannot afford to remain. In turn, this puts huge demands on providing domiciliary support and care for the increasingly older populations of those expensive villages, but it also means that people are living there part-time, because the houses are used as holiday homes. Shelter has provided an excellent briefing on the Bill and highlights the need to strengthen it so that social rented housing plays a far more prominent role in the planning system.

Other noble Lords have argued many of the points I had intended to raise. At this time in the evening I will not repeat them, but I will say that I fully support the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, and the noble Lord, Lord Best.

Communities need not only healthy, safe, affordable social housing but schools, preschool nurseries, safe public transport—that comes more than twice a day, as in my village—health centres, step-down hospital facilities, hospital beds, effective domiciliary services and intergenerational hubs. All these things need to be considered to avoid loneliness and enable communities to work together, so that there is good infrastructure to develop the future for young people. Careful consideration needs to be given not only to access to nature—which where I live you can access in 20 seconds—but access to a shop, coffee shop or library, where you may be able to speak to somebody else during the day.

The centre needs to think about declaring a proportion of social housing that should be agreed across the whole country. I believe it should be a minimum of a third of all new housing.

I have read the Bill, though not every page. Absent from the majority of it is the importance of universities in the intangible development of patents, innovation and local jobs. We need to think carefully about how we get this right, as they tend not to serve wide areas.

Can the Minister comment on the evidence the Government have that investment in high-quality, affordable homes would reduce costs to the NHS, as outlined earlier by two previous leaders, and improve the educational prospects for children currently living in temporary accommodation and often moving from school to school? What will the Government’s responsibility be re housing? Will they simply devolve it, leaving local communities to get on with it and then blaming them, or will they set standards? For example, the current standard of renting a room enables you to get just over £7,000 a year, I believe, but some areas should be able to charge more. That could be really positive for housing, particularly for young people. I agree with what other noble Lords have said: the postcodes of our birth should not affect our life expectancy and chances, however we know that they do.

Finally, we seem to have removed the placeholder clause on vagrancy and begging. Could the Minister comment on whether this will be dealt with elsewhere, as it is an important issue?