14 Lord Crisp debates involving the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities

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Building Safety Bill
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Building Safety Bill
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2nd reading & 2nd reading

Local Planning Authorities: Staffing

Lord Crisp Excerpts
Monday 12th February 2024

(4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Asked by
Lord Crisp Portrait Lord Crisp
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the levels of staffing in planning departments in local planning authorities.

Baroness Penn Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Baroness Penn) (Con)
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The Government regularly engage with local authorities. We understand that they, as well as the wider planning sector, face capacity and capability challenges that have resulted in delays, including in the processing of planning applications. To address this, we have developed a comprehensive planning capability and capacity programme which provides direct support, delivers funding to local government, provides upskilling opportunities for existing planners and further develops the future pipeline into the profession.

Lord Crisp Portrait Lord Crisp (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I would just raise two points with her. First, there may be additional funding coming into the system, but is she confident that this will lead to an increase in staffing capacity? Even if it does, given that staffing has reduced by 25% in the last nine years, does she feel that staffing of planning departments is adequate to not only deal with planning applications but with the new responsibilities around biodiversity net gain and providing local plans?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, we think that the staffing in local planning authorities needs to increase. We have provided several routes for that to happen, including the planning skills delivery fund, which is worth £29 million. In December, we announced the first 180 local authorities to get funding from that, and there will be further allocations this spring. We have also increased planning fees by 25%, and up to 30% for major applications, and made provision for that to be indexed in future years. The pipeline is not just about funding; it is also about skills, which is why we have put in place support for master’s programmes and an improved pipeline for getting people into planning and helping them upskill in the specific skills the noble Lord mentioned once they are there.

Moved by
191A: After Clause 88, insert the following new Clause—
“Secretary of State’s duty to promote healthy homes and neighbourhoods(1) The Secretary of State must promote a comprehensive regulatory framework for planning and the built environment designed to secure—(a) the physical, mental and social health and well-being of the people of England, and(b) healthy homes and neighbourhoods.(2) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for a system of standards that promotes and secures healthy homes on condition that certain requirements prescribed in the regulations are met. (3) Schedule (Healthy homes) makes provision about healthy homes standards.”
Lord Crisp Portrait Lord Crisp (CB)
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My Lords, I will speak to the three amendments about healthy homes in my name in this group: Amendments 191A, 191B and 286. I support other amendments in this group; in particular, Amendment 198, which, like these amendments, links health and housing, and much of what I will say is also very relevant to that amendment.

I am very grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Young of Cookham, Lord Blunkett and Lord Stunell, for adding their names, and more generally to noble Lords across your Lordships’ House who have supported these amendments. I am also very grateful to the TCPA, which has supported me with these amendments; there is also a considerable campaign of support for them outside which it has created, including among builders, developers and insurers, all of whom recognise that action is needed.

I am also very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, with whom we have had two meetings, but sadly without any progress being made. I wait to hear what may be said later.

In describing these amendments, I will also explain why they are very different from the Government’s existing and planned policy. I make a point of this because the Government have consistently stated that these amendments are not necessary as they are already covered by existing or planned policy. However, these differences start with the recognition of the vital link between housing and health and well-being. They are intimately connected issues. Noble Lords will be very well aware of these connections and the problems—for example, of damp, cold, mould, air pollution, safety and more—when poor housing has caused deaths, illnesses and accidents. We need think only of the poor child in Rochdale who died from mould or the child in London who died from air pollution in their homes.

It is also important to remember to mention the mental health issues caused by poor, insecure, overcrowded housing and living in homes and neighbourhoods that are vulnerable to crime. I know that noble Lords debating the amendment of my noble friend Lady Willis will have much more to say about this, and particularly inequalities. It is the poorest people in the poorest neighbourhoods who are worst affected, and that is a very fitting topic for a levelling-up Bill.

Noble Lords will also be aware of the great strides earlier Governments made in understanding the relationship between health and housing and tackling them together, from Victorian times onwards—slum clearances over the ages, but also the great campaign of “Homes for Heroes” after the First World War. People recognised those important links, yet today, there is virtually nothing about health in planning and, if there is, it is about healthcare. The links between health, well-being and planning are simply not addressed. That is why Amendment 191A states:

“The Secretary of State must promote a comprehensive regulatory framework for planning and the built environment designed to secure … the physical, mental and social health and well-being of the people of England, and ... healthy homes and neighbourhoods”.

This does three very important things. It places health and well-being firmly at the heart of planning for the built environment; stresses the links between an individual’s health and the neighbourhood in which they live; and provides a clear aim for the whole planning and regulatory system. All three are important.

I recognise that this is a substantial strategic change in the approach to planning and regulation which, if adopted, will have a positive impact on the quality of housing and neighbourhoods, should reduce the likelihood of new slums being created and truly help to level up. It will also have a positive financial benefit by reducing the massive cost of poor housing to, for example, the NHS. I will not labour this point, but it is in the many billions of pounds. The respected Building Research Establishment estimates that it is £135 billion over 30 years. Of course, there is all the human cost of poor housing and huge cost to other sectors of the economy. In summary, there is a real choice here between carrying on as before and making a determined effort to create good housing for the citizens of this country that is fit for the future.

I turn for a moment to standards and quality. I imagine that all noble Lords are well aware of the poor standard of some recent developments, mainly but not exclusively those created through permitted development rights. We can see that existing arrangements have not stopped that, and new policies will lack the teeth to make it happen. Amendment 191A refers to the Secretary of State being responsible for creating

“a system of standards that promotes and”,

importantly, “secures healthy homes”. The system of standards covers 11 areas, which are linked concerns about individuals and the community. They bring health and environment and health and security issues together. Importantly, in Amendment 191B, it is the Secretary of State who is held to account by Parliament for delivery, by the mechanisms in the amendments.

We are not writing the policy; we are making sure it is delivered everywhere. We set out those principles to be followed which need to be enshrined in law; we have deliberately left the Secretary of State with space to define the standards, which will obviously change over time, and the methods they use to deliver them. We are not trying to rewrite government policy here; we are trying to enact legislation.

Since Committee, the Government have proposed the extension of permitted development rights to embrace sites in countryside areas, farms, national parks and hotels. This makes these amendments even more necessary. We need the health and well-being focus, the coherence and the standards as a counterbalance: a free-for-all will not help the public or the economy. As the APPG on homelessness said even before that extension was proposed, PDR can provide extra needed housing, but it needs to be done well, which is why that cross-party group supports these amendments.

Let me touch on costs. I imagine that some noble Lords will be thinking, “Doesn’t this cost a great deal of money?” I am not talking about the difference between lower-cost and higher-cost houses, I am talking about the difference between lower-cost housing and housing that is simply not fit for purpose. The analogy I use is the MOT. The MOT dictates whether or not a car is fit to be on our roads. If we have such a test for our cars, we also need to ensure that our housing is fit to be on our streets.

I have so far talked about the extraordinary opportunity cost of not addressing these issues. If we do not address them, we are condemning a lot of people to poor housing. But let us look at it from the other side for a moment: from the point of view of opportunity, and homes for heroes, if you like. Who have these homes been built for? There is opportunity here if people have a secure home, a secure base from which to operate, space for children to do their homework, where they are not spending all their time worrying about repairs and everything else. This is about life chances. It is not just about housing affecting health and well-being; it affects people’s life chances in the long term.

These are powerful arguments, and I wait to hear how the Government are going to respond. However, I should say at this point that I expect to take this to a vote, because I want His Majesty’s Government to think again and engage with the arguments about health, well-being and standards. They have not done so thus far, but it is very important that they do. I beg to move.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 198 in my name and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Willis of Summertown, the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London.

The noble Baroness, Lady Willis, very much regrets that she is unable to be present, for unavoidable reasons, and has therefore asked me to speak to her amendment. In essence, it would ensure that the planning system is contributing to the levelling-up agenda by designing the places people need to thrive and contributing to a general health and well-being objective. Let me say here that I entirely endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, with his great experience, said. This amendment is entirely consistent with and complementary to his, and I am glad that he will press his to a Division.

I should say that my interest in this came from the particular issue of health inequality, but it is active travel on which I will focus. Subsection (4) of Amendment 198, to which local planning authorities or, as the case may be, the Secretary of State would have to have regard, emphasises some of the points the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, is making:

“ensuring that key destinations such as essential shops, schools, parks and open spaces, health facilities and public transport services are in safe and convenient proximity on foot to homes … facilitating access to these key destinations and creating opportunities for everyone to be physically active by improving existing, and creating new, walking and cycling routes and networks … increasing access to high-quality green infrastructure … ensuring a supply of housing which is affordable … and meets”

health, accessibility and well-being needs. That is entirely consistent with what both the Government and the Opposition would think of when they talk of health and well-being.

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To conclude, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, having heard what I have said, will agree to withdraw Amendment 191A, and that noble Lords will be content for the other amendments in this group not to be moved when they are reached.
Lord Crisp Portrait Lord Crisp (CB)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for taking part and for the great support which our amendments have received. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, knows that in our earlier discussions we always said we were happy to discuss the detail and how this would be implemented and that there were two sticking points. The two sticking points were having some firm, fixed standards—the MOT analogy I used—but also the whole approach to the system of promoting health and well-being. I very much welcome the movement the Government have made on extending the Decent Homes Standard to social housing but also to the private rental sector. I have to ask, of course: why not also to PDR, and indeed to all new homes, if it is good enough for those areas? PDR is obviously the area where there has been the most problems.

We have always said there is a great deal of flexibility in how these standards are applied. To briefly respond to the noble Lords, Lord Naseby and Lord Lucas, the amendment makes it clear that it is up to the Secretary of State to interpret these healthy homes principles, and it explicitly says that there will be differences between rural, urban and suburban areas, for precisely the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, mentioned.

I am very happy that there has been considerable movement. There has not been movement on the fundamental principle, which is that all new homes being developed, if I may put it in terribly layman’s language, need to promote health, safety and well-being, and that is where we need to be going. So, I ask the Government to think again and see if they can move further in due course, and I would like to test the opinion of the House.

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Moved by
191B: Before Schedule 7, insert the following new Schedule—
“SCHEDULEHealthy homesPolicy statement on healthy homes principles
1 The Secretary of State must prepare a statement in accordance with this schedule (the “policy statement on healthy homes principles”).2 The statement must explain how the healthy homes principles are to be interpreted and applied by Ministers of the Crown and relevant responsible authorities in making, developing and revising their policies.3 The statement may explain how the principles will be implemented and adhered to in a way that takes account of a building development’s urban, suburban or rural location.Meaning of “healthy homes principles”
4 In this Act “healthy homes principles” means the principles that—(a) all new homes should be safe in relation to the risk of fire,(b) all new homes should have, as a minimum, the liveable space required to meet the needs of people over their whole lifetime, including adequate internal and external storage space,(c) all main living areas and bedrooms of a new dwelling should have access to natural light,(d) all new homes and their surroundings should be designed to be inclusive, accessible, and adaptable to suit the needs of all, with particular regard to protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010,(e) all new homes should be built within places that prioritise and provide access to sustainable transport and walkable services, including green infrastructure and play space,(f) all new homes should secure radical reductions in carbon emissions in line with the provisions of the Climate Change Act 2008,(g) all new homes should demonstrate how they will be resilient to a changing climate over their full lifetime,(h) all new homes should be secure and built in such a way as to minimise the risk of crime,(i) all new homes should be free from adverse and intrusive noise and light pollution,(j) all new homes should not contribute to unsafe or illegal levels of indoor or ambient air pollution and must be built to minimise, and where possible eliminate, the harmful impacts of air pollution on human health and the environment, and(k) all new homes should be designed to provide year-round thermal comfort for inhabitants.Policy statement on healthy homes principles: process
5 The Secretary of State must prepare a draft of the policy statement on healthy homes principles.6 The Secretary of State must consult such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate in relation to the draft statement.7 The Secretary of State must lay the draft statement before Parliament.8 If, before the end of the period of 21 sitting days beginning with the day after the day on which the draft statement is laid—(a) either House of Parliament passes a resolution in respect of the draft, or(b) a committee of either House, or a joint committee of both Houses, makes recommendations in respect of the draft,the Secretary of State must produce a response and lay it before Parliament. 9 The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament, and publish, the final statement, but not before—(a) if paragraph 8 applies, the day on which the Secretary of State lays before Parliament the response required by that subsection, or(b) otherwise, the end of the period of 21 sitting days beginning with the day after the day on which the draft statement is laid before Parliament.10 The Secretary of State may revise the policy statement on healthy homes principles at any time (and paragraphs 5 to 11 apply in relation to any revised statement).11 “Sitting day” means a day on which both Houses of Parliament sit.Policy statement on healthy homes principles: effect
12 A Minister of the Crown must have regard to the healthy homes principles when making, developing or revising policies dealt with by the statement.13 Relevant responsible authorities must have regard to the policy statement on healthy homes principles when discharging their duties under the planning, building, and public health acts.14 “Relevant responsible authorities” include but are not limited to—(a) local planning authorities;(b) public health authorities;(c) urban development corporations;(d) new town development authorities;(e) the planning inspectorate;(f) Homes England.Annual monitoring
15 The Secretary of State must prepare a progress report for each annual reporting period.16 A progress report for an annual reporting period is a report on progress made in that period about the extent to which all new homes approved and completed during that period have met the healthy homes principles under paragraph 4.17 A progress report must include specific consideration of how the approval and creation of new homes has met the needs of those with protected characteristics under section 4 of the Equality Act 2010 (the protected characteristics).18 A progress report must include consideration of how progress could be improved.19 The Secretary of State must arrange for each progress report to be—(a) laid before Parliament, and(b) published.”

Healthy Homes Bill [HL]

Lord Crisp Excerpts
Moved by
Lord Crisp Portrait Lord Crisp
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That the Bill be now read a third time.

A privilege amendment was made.
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Moved by
Lord Crisp Portrait Lord Crisp
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That the Bill do now pass.

Lord Crisp Portrait Lord Crisp (CB)
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My Lords, I would like to take a moment to say a few words of thanks. First, I thank all noble Lords on all Benches who have supported this so wholeheartedly and brought expertise and experience to bear on it. I recognise that there was one voice against the Bill, and I would like to acknowledge the very courteous discussions I have had with the Minister. I hope to persuade her on these matters in the context of a different Bill at a later point.

I also thank those in the Public Bill Office, in particular Theo Pembroke, who have been very helpful in making sure that the Bill would work properly in law. Outside your Lordships’ House, I also thank the TCPA, particularly Hugh Ellis, Dan Slade and Rosalie Callway, who have made such a contribution to preparing the Bill. Finally, I thank the supporters of the Bill outside this House. I note that this now includes developers and insurers.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, for all his work on this matter and for bringing the Bill forward. We supported it and continue to support it because we believe it is important for the Government to build a new wave of affordable, healthy homes in which families can settle with a real sense of security.

The levelling up Bill is being discussed—some of us were again here quite late last night—but that does not bring anything forward to ensure that affordable and healthy homes are built to the high standards we need. We have heard about this in previous debates on this Bill. I hope the Minister takes up the offer of further discussions with the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, to see if this Bill can be accepted or whether we can table amendments to the levelling Up Bill on this matter on Report that are acceptable to the Government. Again, I thank everyone for their work on this Bill.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Baroness Scott of Bybrook) (Con)
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My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, for his expert and committed stewardship of this Bill. I have been extremely grateful for being able to meet him and understand his passion for the healthy homes principles. I hope we will continue that discussion moving forward, particularly with the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill.

I also acknowledge and thank the Town and Country Planning Association for its work on this important Bill. Healthy homes and neighbourhoods are important to our communities, and it is because of this importance that we focus on achieving that objective. The planning system strives to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development, with the National Planning Policy Framework containing a very clear policy on sustainable development that recognises the importance to health, well-being and recreation of open spaces and green infrastructure. The policies in the framework lay out how to achieve healthy, inclusive and safe places.

In addition, permitted development rights have been a well-established part of the planning system for many years, supporting businesses and home owners. In response to the criticism about the quality of some homes delivered under permitted development rights, we now require that all new homes must meet as a minimum the national described space standards and must provide adequate natural light in all habitable rooms. The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill is how we plan to modernise our planning system and put local people back in charge. It will lead to a system through which development is shaped around the interests of communities.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, again and assure him that I entirely understand the spirit of his proposals and the importance of the subject matter. However, the Government are confident that those matters are already being considered and addressed through existing laws, systems and national planning policy and associated design guidance, and that the balance between these is broadly appropriate. Therefore, we cannot support the Bill.

Lord Crisp Portrait Lord Crisp (CB)
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My Lords, may I make two very quick points in reply? First, I am again very grateful to everyone who has supported the Bill; I have seen the strength of feeling around the House. Secondly, I say to the Minister that I am delighted there is so much common ground between us on this. I am also delighted that, on PDR, which has caused so many of the problems we are talking about, the Government have moved some way in this direction by introducing two sorts of standards. My Bill obviously proposes that we should introduce a wider range of standards in order to ensure that it is properly about healthy homes.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.
Moved by
188: After Clause 86, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty to promote health and well-beingThe Secretary of State must ensure that national planning policy and guidance are designed to secure positive improvements in the physical and mental health and well-being of the people of England.”
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Lord Crisp Portrait Lord Crisp (CB)
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My Lords, in moving the amendment in my name, I am very grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Young of Cookham, Lord Blunkett and Lord Stunell, who have added their names to my amendments in this group. I very much look forward to their contributions today.

Amendment 188 sets out that:

“The Secretary of State must ensure that national planning policy and guidance are designed to secure positive improvements in the physical and mental health and well-being of the people of England.”

There is currently no provision for promoting health and well-being in planning legislation and guidance. Even in the key paragraph 20 of the National Planning Policy Framework, where the Government set down requirements on strategic policies in local plans, there is no mention of promoting health and well-being but simply a reference to the provision of healthcare facilities. This seems to be a very old-fashioned view of health which equates health with healthcare.

If nothing else, the pandemic has accelerated public understanding that health in the broadest sense, and well-being, are central to place-making, communities and the levelling-up missions. Our homes and neighbourhoods deeply influence our health, for good and for bad, and this all influences our life chances. If we want to level up and create the circumstances in which people can flourish, health and well-being must have central roles in our planning system.

I recognise that this is a big change. The amendment is very carefully worded to say “designed” to secure positive improvements. This is not just an add-on: it places health and well-being at the heart of the system. There is an opportunity here to create the conditions for levelling up and for people to flourish. We can use the planning system to ensure that we are providing healthy environments and healthy homes that are fit for purpose.

I refer briefly to the amendments in this group that are not in my name. They cover very similar territory. While I will not speak to them, I support them.

I turn to Amendments 394 to 399, which are specifically about healthy homes. I will briefly explain the background to these and why I think they are necessary, before going into some detail.

I am delighted that the Government recognise that housing and health are key to levelling up, and that, in the Minister’s letter to Peers on 27 January, she wrote that the Government support the objective within the Healthy Homes Bill. However, she went on to say that this is dealt with by existing laws and/or alternative policy. With respect, I do not believe that that is the case. There is no overall statutory duty with regard to healthy homes, and it is clear to all of us that existing laws and guidance are simply not producing the results that we all want. There is some existing policy—for example, in the National Planning Policy Framework—that addresses some of these issues, but even this is not mandatory and can be set aside by local decision-makers.

More directly, we can all see that existing policies are not working—we need only to look at some of the results. I have a photo book, which I will send to the Minister, of some of the worst examples around the country. I am happy to send it to any other noble Lord who wishes to have a copy. It contains examples of some recently developed homes. Many of them are permitted developments with, for example, redundant office blocks on industrial sites providing appalling accommodation, but this is not just about PDR.

It is reasonable to ask, and I have been asked, whether the requirements proposed in these amendments will add cost. The argument goes that you could perhaps get a larger number of homes for the same sort of money. But that is the wrong question. This is not about higher or lower cost or quality. The purpose is to eliminate homes being developed that are simply not fit for purpose. It is not about the relative cost.

I know that there are other objections around this being extra regulation, although this is not the principal barrier to development generally. I have met with high-quality developers around the country and looked at how they are developing homes and neighbourhoods. There is very little in this that they are not already doing, and they have internal processes to ensure that it happens. More generally, for the regulation system as a whole, I believe that an overarching requirement to promote health, safety and well-being will help align planning and building regulations better and could be used to reduce complexity.

Turning to the detail of the amendments, I think they provide a very sensible structure. I do not claim credit for it; it was proposed by Dr Hugh Ellis of the TCPA. In essence, they set out a duty on the Secretary of State to secure health, safety and well-being in new homes in accordance with 11 healthy homes principles, which the Secretary of State can then establish the policy on. This is not set in stone but can change from time to time as appropriate and can be interpreted differently by the Secretary of State for different areas, such as country and town areas. There is also a duty to report on progress. The key point is that this is all mandatory and that it should be reported on regularly.

Amendment 394 would introduce a duty on the Secretary of State to secure healthy homes. Amendment 395 would require the Secretary of State to prepare a policy statement explaining how the healthy homes principles will be used. Amendment 396 sets out the principles. Amendment 397 would require a draft of the statement on interpretation to be available to Parliament for possible comment. Amendment 398 describes the effect of the statement on different authorities. Amendment 399 would require the Secretary of State to publish an annual progress report.

I commend these amendments to your Lordships as a way of securing new homes that are fit for purpose, which would also enhance health and reduce the burden on the health and care system, because we should note that unhealthy homes, far from being a cost-neutral or light-cost option, cost the NHS roughly £1.4 billion every year. Most importantly, the amendments would provide homes that offer a secure foundation for the lives of individuals and families, helping them to thrive. They would also play a significant role in levelling up. I beg to move.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con)
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My Lords, Amendment 188, headed as it is by the noble Lords, Lord Crisp and Lord Young, sounds like an advertisement for a supermarket lettuce. Along with the noble Lords, Lord Blunkett and Lord Stunell, I supported the Healthy Homes Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, on 15 July, along with many other noble Lords who all spoke in favour at Second Reading. When the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, replied to the debate, after expressing his disappointment that the Government were not supportive of his Bill, he said:

“I will take the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and look for opportunities for this in current legislation.”—[Official Report, 15/7/22; col. 1707.]

He then did what did not always happened when I was Chief Whip in another place: he followed my advice. His amendments would simply insert his Bill into this one, so today we have an opportunity to build on what was said on that occasion in July and take the debate forward.

I looked again at what the Minister said in reply to that debate:

“The Government oppose this Bill, not because they take issue with the premise of noble Lords’ arguments, but rather because they believe that the problems highlighted in the Bill are already being dealt with via alternative policy routes … Many of the proposed healthy homes principles are already covered by the National Planning Policy Framework, which sets out the Government’s planning policies for England and how these should be applied. The NPPF must be taken into account by local authorities in the preparation of their development plans, and it is a material consideration in planning decisions.”

She went on to say:

“We are intending to review the NPPF to support the programme of changes to the planning system. This will provide an opportunity to ensure that the NPPF contributes to sustainable development as fully as possible.”

So two options are available. One is to do what the amendments would do and incorporate the Healthy Homes Bill into primary legislation. The other—and I hold no negotiating brief for the noble Lord, Lord Crisp—is for the Government to undertake that the revised NPPF will incorporate the relevant commitments in Amendments 394 to 399.

Those amendments build on what is already in the NPPF. In the Minister’s own words:

“The social objective focuses on supporting strong, vibrant and healthy communities by fostering well-designed, beautiful and safe places with accessible services and open spaces. More specifically, the framework is clear that planning policies and decisions should aim to achieve healthy, inclusive and safe places. This should support healthy lifestyles, especially where this would address identified local health and well-being needs.”

The Minister went on to say:

“This means that all plans should promote sustainable patterns of growth to meet local need, align growth and infrastructure, improve the environment, mitigate climate change and adapt to its effects.”—[Official Report, 15/7/22; cols. 1702-03.]

But that is not a million miles away from what is in the noble Lord’s amendments. The Minister may want to reflect on the precise wording and have a dialogue with the noble Lord, but her objective of mitigating climate change, which I just referred to, is not a million miles from proposed new paragraph (f) in Amendment 396, that

“all new homes should secure radical reductions in carbon emissions in line with the provisions of the Climate Change Act 2008”.

If my noble friend the Minister has “resist” on the top of her speaking notes, is she prepared to discuss with the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, how his agenda can best be taken forward?

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I would love to tell the noble Baroness how that is to be done. I will consult my officials and do my best to do so.

Lord Crisp Portrait Lord Crisp (CB)
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My Lords, there have been many tremendous debates in your Lordships’ Chamber, and this has certainly been one of them. I am very grateful to everyone who spoke in support of the amendments that I and other noble Lords tabled. I am also grateful for the personal comments that noble Lords have made, and I will pass those straight on to the TCPA, which actually did the work behind the scenes on this entire campaign.

I was thinking of how to sum this up without going through everything. If the Government will forgive me, in today’s debate were the makings of a very decent levelling up Bill. If we could bring these things together, it would have ambition and vision, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, and others, talked about. It would also be strategic and systemic; the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, made a point about the environmental and energy issues being deeply integrated with health and well-being. We need to see some systemic change if we are to make the differences that we are talking about. There are also practical things that can be done here—people have talked about levers and specifics. They are also guided by experience. I was very heartened to hear very experienced Members from different backgrounds, including noble Lords who understand these issues because they meet them in their professional lives. So, such a Bill would have a lot of important ingredients and a broadly shared vision.

I was struck by another thing, which planners will be pleased about. Planning is often seen as a negative, but all noble Lords described it as something that could enable the creation of the flourishing individuals, society and communities that we all want.

I will not take up any more time, except to respond to the noble Earl’s response. At Second Reading of the Healthy Homes Bill, I got a very similar response from the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield. My response was that:

“I was not necessarily surprised and therefore not necessarily disappointed”.—[Official Report, 15/7/22; col. 1706.]

I am not surprised, but I would like to think that there is some route for discussion. The big difference here is between guidance and what is required. In my comments, I have been trying to hammer in that we need to build houses that are fit for purpose. We also need to return to the health and well-being issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and by me. I would be very happy to meet the Government if it were useful to discuss these things further. Maybe there is some useful discussion to be had around the NPPF. I am not sure whether there will be but, if not, I expect us to debate this again in this Chamber sometime after the Coronation—I am not quite sure when. I suspect that we may also be debating health and well-being.

I finish by returning to the noble Lord, Lord Young, who was kindly encouraging me to negotiate. I will look to him for advice on how best to do that, but I cannot resist replying to his very first comment, which noble Lords may remember—two hours and 17 minutes ago or whenever it was—that, as “Young and Crisp”, we sound like a supermarket selling lettuces. It reminded me of another Member—the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich—making a similar comment a few years ago. In a debate on Africa, he said something similar about sandwiches and crisps. I can only say that I am extremely fortunate in my business partners.

On that note, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 188 withdrawn.
Lord Crisp Portrait Lord Crisp (CB)
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My Lords, I want to raise three particular issues. First, how will the Bill enable levelling up? The second makes the links between health, climate change, and planning which are largely absent in the Bill, as other noble Lords have said. The third is to comment on the quality of housing, not just the type and quantity.

On the first one, it was very helpful to have a chance to meet the Minister and discuss some of these issues earlier, and for her to explain that the missions are not in the Bill but the Bill is about enabling the missions within it. I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, has told us what we need to do to enable levelling up, and within that there is a bit which is the responsibility of national government. One of the things within national government that the Bill does not do, although it may have various things about the missions, is anything about joining up the missions between each other, and how important that is. If we do not do that, we will have disjointed and sometimes conflicting approaches and plans.

The objective of levelling up as set out in the White Paper is a fundamentally important idea which requires a range of linked and funded actions across environmental, social and economic realms; the Bill does not do anything for that at the national level. If I take the very specific issue of the crisis in the NHS at the moment, it is very clear that reform of the NHS—whatever that means to different people—will not be effective without related changes in housing, education, employment, and much more, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle talked about in his very moving contribution about the social determinants of health. These things are all fundamentally linked.

The second point is about what is happening at a local level. Here I take my cue from my noble friend Lord Mawson, who is unable to speak in this debate, not being able to be here for the entire time. I know that he would ask: where is the innovation in this Bill? Where are the vehicles for innovation where business, community and others are able to come together with local authorities to drive new ideas and change in a way that really works across the entire community? I suspect that to a large degree the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, may have answered these questions.

I will move on to the second area. The White Paper itself clearly identified health, well-being, and human thriving as issues which require special attention. The White Paper noted both the importance of tackling health inequality and that levelling up was as much a moral as an economic imperative. As a result, it is remarkable that the Bill itself contains not a single practical measure which would support communities either in the short-term battle with the cost of living crisis, or to secure their long-term health and well-being.

Just one example of this is the lack of any provisions which might strengthen public health considerations in the planning process. I know that this is despite strong attempts to insert such measures in the other place, and there is a great parallel here with other noble Lords’ arguments about the importance of having climate change fundamentally as part of the planning process. I argue that health and well-being need to be central to this legislation, and that the legislation itself needs to contain practical and deliverable measures that will have an immediate impact on the welfare of our communities.

I turn to the third idea, which is about health and housing. Again, a number of noble Lords have talked about the important links between health and housing, and it has been very evident over centuries that housing is of fundamental importance to health, not least in the negative impacts—we know about the impact of damp and mould growing in homes, we know about accidents in homes, we know about air pollution and problems of all sorts within homes which damage people’s health. But we also know that homes are a foundation of people’s lives, places which allow people to have a stable environment from which they can build success in the rest of their lives. The quality of homes is vital, and the Bill does not contain the necessary standards to ensure that new homes and communities adequately support people’s health and well-being.

As the Minister knows, and as my noble friend Lady Prashar has already mentioned, I have introduced a Healthy Homes Bill which is awaiting its Third Reading in your Lordships’ House. This requires all new homes to promote health, safety, and well-being, and sets out 11 areas of healthy homes principles. I am delighted to say that there was widespread support at Second Reading from all parts of the House for that Bill, and I plan to put forward related amendments to it in Committee.

In summary, this is a missed opportunity, as others have said, in pursuit of the worthwhile aim of this piece of legislation. But it is also clear from the debate so far that noble Lords have many excellent proposals for improving the Bill, and I look forward, if that is the right word, to the many debates.

Housing Market

Lord Crisp Excerpts
Thursday 17th November 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Crisp Portrait Lord Crisp (CB)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to take part in this important and timely debate and I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, on leading it. I also greatly congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, on her maiden speech, which showed us what we need and what we are missing. I liked a lot of what she had to say about the fact that it is communities and not just buildings we are talking about here. I must say that I had not heard Lord Silkin’s inspiring words before she said them at the end of her speech.

I am coming at this from the perspective of quality rather than numbers—quality and health. I suspect that I am probably the least knowledgeable person about housing in this debate. I have come to it rather late, after realising something I should have realised long ago about the extraordinary interconnections between health and housing and how absolutely fundamental they are. A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, have made the point that housing is a foundation for people’s lives. I think he said something about how many of our social and economic problems stem from poor housing within our society. I absolutely agree with that.

I have been gradually learning about housing and have been astonished to understand what major problems there are right across the entire system, from the inability to build the numbers that we say we are going to build, to questions of quality of construction and repairs and questions of planning. Within all that, there are some obvious health issues. I refer briefly to the tragic story of the young child in Rochdale who died very recently from mould in completely inadequate housing. I refer also to how, during Covid, we know that things such as lack of ventilation and overcrowding affected the lives of many, sometimes with fatal consequences. There are something like 2 million older households living in poor housing. As has already been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, the NHS faces massive costs because of poor housing: one estimate is at least £1.4 billion annually. Of that, 60% was due to cold and around 30% to falls—two things that are preventable, but neither of which it looks as if in the near future we will see much improvement in. Of course, there are other issues here about independent living.

There are extraordinary interconnections between poor housing—which is what we are talking about—and health, and it is vital to get both right. This has a long history; indeed, the first Minister of Health was also a Minister of Housing. I am not going to suggest to the current Secretary of State that he may wish to add that to his other duties at the moment but, somewhere, the close connection between housing and health has got lost. This is a very clear example of why we need the sort of strategy that the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, is proposing, which looks at it in the context of wider social, economic and environmental issues. I have been talking about health, but somebody else in this debate could equally stand up and talk about the environmental impact of poor housing and the fact that so much carbon is used, not just in the construction but on a continuing basis. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, who commented on how much finance would be needed in Stevenage to bring houses up to the required standard.

So there is a clear need for a new strategy that takes a really comprehensive view. As part of that, we obviously need to get regulation right. I am in fact not a great fan of regulation, having run teaching hospitals in Oxford and been very aware that ill-thought-through regulation can be extraordinarily damaging. But there is a need for less—in some ways—but smarter regulation here. I have heard plenty of examples—and we have just heard them again from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours—of where regulation does not cover the entire field, where there is conflict between different sets of regulations, or where there are policy conflicts. I am aware myself of policy conflicts where it is very difficult to get through planning some of the obvious things that are needed to improve environmental issues. There is a whole range of conflicts here.

However, I was surprised to discover, when I talked to the chief executive of one of the major housing developers, which produces very high-quality houses, about regulation—which obviously he did not particularly want—the point he made was that there is nobody who checks up on the regulation. This, I guess, must be known well to other people in the Chamber, but the surprising point that he was making is that there is a lot of regulation but not very much in the way of inspection. Local authorities and others have lost a lot of the staff who would otherwise be making sure that regulation was properly applied. The implication he left me with was that good developers of course pay attention to the regulations, but many others do not.

So there seem to be some major problems in the way regulation is handled at the moment. What are the levers that this Government are going to use, perhaps including regulation but maybe including codes of good practice or incentives? How will they ensure that in future we will not see more poor-quality homes being built? Because we are seeing poor-quality homes being built, partly through permitted development rights but also through other routes. How can the Government ensure that we stop the problem getting worse, let alone move forward to improve things?

We need a comprehensive strategy that covers social, economic and environmental aspects. There is plenty of expertise around. There are plenty of reports. My noble friend Lord Best spelled out the importance of Sir Oliver Letwin’s report of some years ago now and how it pointed to an essential problem underlying all of this. So, there is an enormous amount of expertise and we also need a clear vision of what this or any future Government seek to do with their housing strategy. While I and others have been talking about all the negative impacts of poor housing and poor maintenance and the impact they have on people, there is also a positive aspect here. It takes us back, of course, to the new towns and garden cities, to Port Sunlight and other aspects of past developments when people saw and understood that housing as part of the development of cities and towns is about enhancing life, about the ability to provide a foundation for people’s lives so they can thrive, and about their health and well-being, as well as everything else.

I will end on two final points. One is that we need to start to think about this in positive terms, addressing the problems but actually setting out a strategy that builds something that is positive for the future and sees this as the foundation of people’s lives and their ability to thrive, as well as being essential for their health and well-being. We cannot expect the nation to prosper successfully if we treat people’s homes in the way we are doing at the moment. I return to my final question. How will this Government ensure that there are no more poor-quality homes being built?

Building Safety Bill

Lord Crisp Excerpts
I have proposed as quickly as I can three important measures that I hope the Government will be willing to take on board. I look forward to the Minister’s response and beg to move Amendment 1.
Lord Crisp Portrait Lord Crisp (CB)
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My Lords, in speaking to Amendment 2, I thank those noble Lords who have added their names to it. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, has asked me to inform your Lordships that he cannot be in his place today as he has Covid. I am sure that we send him our best wishes. However, I am delighted that the noble Lords, Lord Bethell and Lord Stunell, are here and I thank them and others who will speak to this amendment. In passing, I also thank the TCPA and other organisations outside your Lordships’ House which very much support this amendment and have provided support and notes to a number of Members.

I emphasise that this is very much a cross-party amendment. I know that there is a lot of support for the principles involved. It is very simple and quite profound. It offers a simple definition of safety: the risk of harm to the health and well-being of an individual. It is a very simple, common-sense notion that applies to safe stairways, electrical wiring, dampness and cold as much as it does to fire.

In Committee, the Minister in effect argued in response that there did not need to be a definition and that definitions were satisfactorily covered in the current arrangements. There is no legal duty in the planning system that deals with human health. For that reason alone, it is important that we have a definition. More widely than that, I think that we need one for both negative and positive reasons. The negative reason is that, unless there is a definition, I believe that a Government of any party will always be in reactive mode. Amendment 8, which I am happy to support, is a perfect example; it lists four specifics related to human health and well-being and to safety and draws them to the House’s attention as of particular concern.

There will be others. One could produce a much longer list and there are things that we have not thought of yet. We could think about subsistence, air pollution and all kinds of areas that might be caught. The Government will need to continue to address all these issues as they come up—tactically, if you like, and on an ad hoc basis. I am quite sure that, as the Bill was being prepared, the Minister and his colleagues will have wanted to ensure that not too many things were added to it. The danger is that they may not be added to the Bill but will be added to parliamentary and government time afterwards.

There is an enormous advantage to being strategic—to setting out a definition that asks the regulator, and therefore everyone else in the system, to pay attention to health and safety, which embraces all these issues. That will help to bring about the cultural change in line with what I believe the Government want from the Bill. It will allow them to get ahead of the game and be ambitious, as the Long Title suggests that the Bill should be about

“safety … in or about buildings”.

There are positive reasons too; I have already talked about being ambitious. With their proposals around levelling up and elsewhere, the Government are undoubtedly seeking to improve the lives of citizens in the country. Housing and the built environment are absolutely at the heart of those ambitions. Covid has reminded us that our homes, if not being our castles, are certainly the foundations of much else in life: they are our sanctuary, a place for education and a place for stability and safety. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, will say more about the impact of Covid and the relationship between health and housing and buildings more generally. We have always known about that link and so have Governments in the past. For something like 50 years, the Secretary of State for Health was also the Secretary of State for Housing; the two were intimately linked. Partly as a result of that, no doubt, we saw the excellent standard of council housing built between the two wars, for example.

These are long and profound links. The way we design and build our homes and the whole built environment matters not only to people but to the Government’s policies around levelling up, around achieving net zero and around health inequality, to mention just three of the things that have been debated in this House in recent times. I would add the importance of preparation for the next pandemic and more generally for securing increased resilience in the country as a whole.

I have not decided whether to press for a vote and I will obviously listen carefully to what is said by the Minister. I will ask him what steps he will take to meet the concerns that the amendment raises and the need for a profound link between health and housing and whether he will meet me and colleagues to discuss these issues further. I believe that he is also the Minister for Levelling Up, so these issues will undoubtedly return in another guise and at another time. The quality of homes, communities and the built environment is fundamental to levelling up our society. I will also listen with great interest to noble Lords who represent the other political parties in the Chamber. I hope that they will support these principles and will similarly consider how, in the longer term, the links between health, housing and the built environment can be developed and taken forward.

My point here is a simple but big one. In wider society, people have made the connection between health and well-being and the built environment, just as they have made it between health and well-being and the natural environment. The issue will keep coming back to your Lordships’ House. It is far better to get ahead and be strategic and ambitious. This is an idea whose time is coming. The built environment, like the natural environment, is crucial to the health and well-being of the population and therefore to the future prosperity of the country.

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, I support Amendment 2. It is a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Crisp; he put the arguments for the amendment incredibly well so I will keep my comments as brief as I can.

As Health Minister during the pandemic, I realised how unhealthy our country is. Time and again, one saw from the front line of Covid—through the ICUs and test and trace teams—reports of how connected the spread of the disease was to the housing conditions of the country and how the comorbidities of those arriving in our ICUs were often connected to the environment in which they lived. Housing and illness are inextricably linked; I came face to face with that during the pandemic.

The pandemic led to a huge amount of misery through loss of life and severe disease. It also hit the country’s economy extremely hard; there is no doubt that we had longer and harder lockdowns as a result of the fact that our country is so poorly. However, we cannot ask the NHS and our healthcare system on their own to be responsible for the improvement of our national health. There is a role to be played by education, sports, scientists, civic society—all the parts of our country, including and especially housing. That is why I support the healthy homes principle from the TCPA.

This issue is recognised in the levelling-up White Paper, to which the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, referred. However, it is not clearly recognised in the Bill. The priority that housing should support health and well-being should be fundamental to the underpinnings of this Bill. That is the purpose of this amendment, which is why I put my name to it. I ask the Minister to put on record a commitment that the department will look at ways to augment the Bill’s focus to bear on the health and well-being aspects of housing regulation, and to meet the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, myself and others to discuss how this might be done.

The tone of the debates so far—including what has been said by my noble friend the Minister, who has done so much to progress matters post Grenfell, for which I thank him—worries me. We must build in balance or we will live to regret the perverse effects of our good work on this Bill. I am not convinced that the provisions of Clause 3(2), on transparency, accountability, proportionality and consistency and the targeting at cases in which action is needed, or the committees in Clauses 9 and 10, will do enough. I hope that my noble friend will look at the matter again in the light of my comments.
Lord Crisp Portrait Lord Crisp (CB)
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 4. In doing so, I thank the noble Lords who have put their names to the amendment. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, who is in his place but who I know cannot stay for the whole debate, and to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who I believe is probably somewhere on the M1. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, who will bring his great experience and insight to bear when he speaks.

As the awful tragedy of Grenfell revealed to us, and as those working in the industry already knew, the construction industry is in a very poor state on a number of different fronts, from quality and basic standards of all kinds to the supply of housing and the prevailing culture. Whether we worked in the industry or not, we were all deeply shocked by the Grenfell tragedy, and it is this that is the origin of the Bill. I recognise, therefore, that priority must be given to the immediate issues arising from Grenfell and that the Bill cannot address everything that needs to be done to tackle the problems in the construction industry. But it cannot ignore them either.

The Long Title says that the Bill makes

“provision about the safety of people in or about buildings and the standard of buildings”.

The Bill indeed picks up some of this, addressing the golden thread and cultural change, for example. Other noble Lords have addressed this in other amendments, including my noble friend Lord Lytton in his amendments on what is now called the perpetrator pays principle, on which I hope to speak later in Committee.

I originally wanted to press for a set of broad-based standards in construction, brought together around the aim of promoting health, safety and well-being. However, given the imperative of addressing the issues directly related to Grenfell—I am sure the Minister will appreciate this—I and the other signatories have gone for a deliberately simple amendment that makes only a start in that direction. Indeed, I hope that the Minister and the Government will welcome this amendment and see it as a contribution to their wider goals of levelling up and driving cultural change in the sector—something that I hope the Government will build on in levelling-up legislation and elsewhere.

Turning to the specifics of the amendment, it clarifies the meaning of “safety” to include health and well-being. It makes clear that the building safety regulator should consider human health and well-being in discharging its building functions. In practice, this means that the regulator, being part of the Health and Safety Executive, needs to consider health and well-being as part of safety when it exercises building functions under Clauses 4, 5 and 6 of the Bill and its functions under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and the Building Act 1984.

Even without our experience of Covid, there was growing evidence that showed that people’s homes and neighbourhoods have a direct impact on their physical and mental health. Cold, damp, overcrowded and cramped conditions, pollution and inaccessibility for older and disabled people all directly impact on mental and physical health and well-being and constrain opportunity. The quality of our homes and neighbourhoods is one of the foundations of our life and our life chances. The experience of Covid has simply dramatically reinforced all these points.

This is about opportunity for people, life chances and social justice. It is about enabling the people of this country to thrive. The way we organise and design our built environment matters to people and to a series of the Government’s policy initiatives, not least those dealing with health inequality, net zero and levelling up. These conditions also matter in considering our resilience as a country in the face of resurgent and indeed future pandemics. The problem is that the way we regulate homes now fails to secure the minimum standards vital to people’s well-being. This, as the Government’s levelling-up agenda recognises, is a major issue in securing social justice. People on the lowest incomes often suffer the poorest and most insecure housing conditions and live in neighbourhoods with the worst pollution.

This amendment is important because safety is currently undefined in the Bill, so it is simply not clear whether what I would call these common-sense aspects of safety relating to people’s health and well-being should be considered by the building regulator. This lack of clarity is unhelpful because the safety of people is generally defined as an absence of health risks or harms. I note that health and well-being have definitions in UK legislation, so their insertion into law would not be novel. It is also important to note that these issues are not covered by planning or other existing regulations; put simply, planning legislation has no legal obligations of any kind that relate to the health and well-being of people.

I will make one final point on cultural change before I sum up my argument. There is a problem with all regulation when it is written too tightly that people deliver on the specific and do not address the bigger issues—hitting the target but missing the point, if you like. I am sure there are people associated with Grenfell who are arguing that they followed the letter of the law while of course missing the far bigger point. We must not miss this opportunity to take a holistic view on safety. Do we want a future where we have regulated appropriately for fire but, to take just one example that the Committee will address, let people fall down unsafe steps, even though we know what can be done to prevent it? I believe it is necessary to make it clear that this wider definition will inform the decisions of the regulator. I believe that knowing that attention has to be paid to wider concerns of health and safety will also help drive cultural change in the sector as a whole. What I am proposing is about not more regulation but better regulation. Indeed, I believe that, in the longer term, going further and requiring developers to build homes that promote health, safety and well-being will help bring together some of the contradictory elements of the planning and building regulations. That, however, is for another time.

In conclusion, I well understand that the Government cannot make the level of change to the construction industry that is necessary within a single Bill or set of regulations, and I commend them for what is in the Bill. This is why I said at the beginning that we have deliberately added only this simple amendment. This definition allows for the consideration of people’s basic and common-sense needs such as freedom from pollution and damp; safety; access to green space and natural light; accessibility, including safe stairs; heat requirements; and security.

While the amendment is limited to clarifying the scope of the responsibility of the building regulator, it enables the beginning of a new approach to regulation in which human health and well-being are core to the delivery of building safety. I very much hope that the Minister will see this as a contribution to the Government’s goal of making appropriate provisions in the Bill about the safety of people in or about buildings and the standard of buildings.

I have heard it said that we are building the slums of the future. Here the Government have an historic opportunity—very sadly created by this dreadful tragedy—to reverse that trend and help create homes, buildings and neighbourhoods that we can be proud of. I hope that the Government will accept this amendment as an important step on that journey.

Earl of Lytton Portrait The Earl of Lytton (CB)
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My Lords, as this is the first time that I have spoken at this stage of the Bill, I declare my interests as a chartered surveyor and member of various property-based organisations. I am also a patron of the Chartered Association of Building Engineers.

The noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, is absolutely right to say that, while the preservation of human life must be front and centre, by the same token buildings must be designed to retain their fundamental integrity for specified periods of time, at the very least—as set out, half an hour for this, one hour for that and so on. Noble Lords know this only too well. There are of course many reasons why this is necessary. The total destruction of a building was so graphically illustrated by the fire in Worcester Park, the downstream effects of which were described by the noble Lord, Lord Foster, in its destruction of livelihoods, life chances and, in particular, people’s confidence in their homes—I think this is the point the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, was getting at in his amendment. It casts a shadow across families and down the generations. Anybody who understands the concepts of trauma theories knows that; I am no expert, but I know that it happens. Beyond the utter undesirability, the cost, the insurance risk, the potential risk to firefighters and the general spread of contagion, there are compelling reasons why buildings must retain their integrity: structural, compartmentalisation, spread of flame and so on.

The building regulations, going back to 1965—which were the set of regulations in force when I was at the College of Estate Management studying what has become my lifelong trade and calling—include mandatory standards. There is a secondary aspect in parallel with those, which is the advisory approved documents and guidance. It is really important to understand that there were two different streams running in parallel.

One of the industry failings that has occurred—accompanied, I must say, by a failure of regulatory oversight—is on the part of those who were entrusted to make sure that buildings were constructed in accordance with the mandatory requirements and the best practice set out in the advice. The failing has been to assume that everything you needed to know was contained in this advisory guidance that went in parallel with the regulations. That is wrong. I can do no better than refer to, as I understood them, the opening remarks of counsel for the Government in the final stage of Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s inquiry, when he made precisely this point.

If you follow slavishly the approved documents under part B of the building regulations, which is principally to do with fire, you will lead yourself astray, because it says “should”, “could”, “might” and all those sorts of things. You are dealing with advisory documents concerned with how you may be able to do it this way, or you may be able to do it that way. In other words, the regulations produce the mandatory test first and foremost, but all these other advisory documents then provide suggestions on how you might achieve it.

I strongly support Amendments 1 and 4 because this is about people and the security of their homes. It is about inclusion, decent design and, ultimately, outcome-based policies. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, kindly gave me a quick trailer on the “perpetrator pays” amendments, of which more anon. However, I finish by again following the noble Lord, Lord Foster, in saying to the Minister—who I know has really driven this policy forward; I give him great credit for producing this Bill—that I will do everything I can to assist him in making wise choices and accepting appropriate amendments when they are moved.

Lord Crisp Portrait Lord Crisp (CB)
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My Lords, like other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, I commend the Bill and very much welcome the concurrent announcements on funding. I come to this from a health background. Health, housing and buildings are intimately connected. However, I have to say that I have been on a learning curve and have talked to a lot of people over the past few days, including architects, builders and others.

I have heard about exactly what the Minister, my noble friend Lord Best and others have commented on: the crisis in construction. As some have said to me, there is a race to the bottom, with people getting away with what they can and a culture in which clients stand back and architects no longer have responsibility for quality. As one person said to me, quality has been devolved to the contractor, so people are marking their own homework or, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sanderson, said, shifting blame from one to the other. This is a systemic issue and not about individuals. I am delighted that the Minister and the Government have ambitions to address that system.

I recognise that the immediate focus is on high buildings and the response to Grenfell, that the matter is urgent and that this has been a long time coming. However, there is a tension here between that short-term ambition and the wider remit of the Bill. Like other noble Lords, I have enormous sympathy for the families of those who have died and am deeply moved by the stories we have heard in your Lordships’ Chamber and elsewhere—as well as by the pressure and problems that people have faced over the past four years, waiting to know what will happen to their investment, home or whatever. The Bill cannot avoid these wider issues and I do not really think that the Government want to.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and other noble Lords reminded us that the Hackitt report talked at length about culture change and the need to force things to be done differently. I welcome the framework that has been developed around accountability, responsible officers and the golden thread. I should be interested to understand in Committee and on Report how those will be worked out in more detail.

We also need a change in how we think about safety—not as a narrow technical concept about freedom from immediate injury but as something much broader, perhaps more common-sense, linking to health and well-being. It should be a concept that people would recognise. If they were thinking about safety in buildings, they would think about damp, cold, poor air circulation and buildings where falls are likely to happen on the stairs, as well as fire and electrical faults that cause fire, and much more—a wider concept of safety. All that is, of course, appropriate to the Long Title of the Bill, which is to make

“provision about the safety of people in or about buildings and the standard of buildings”.

There are links here to so much else across government and to Bills that are coming or are already in front of your Lordships’ House. That is particularly important at a time when we perhaps move on from the pandemic, when we have seen the importance of people’s homes in their lives. If there is a vision for this country, it must include decent homes and buildings that are safe in all the aspects that I have talked about. After all, homes are part of the fundamental foundation for much of our lives.

There are obvious links with the Health and Care Bill going through the House. A number of noble Lords mentioned the importance of the links between health and housing, recognising that until 50 or 60 years ago health and housing were covered by the same Secretary of State. There is overwhelming evidence of the relationship between people’s mental and physical health, and the design of their homes and neighbourhoods. That is set out by Public Health England and includes a wide range of structural and place-based factors, from the need for active travel and walkable streets to reducing air pollution, and to minimum space, accessibility and light standards. It is said that all that costs the NHS in the region of £1.4 billion a year, but what is the wider cost to individuals and society?

As regards the levelling-up White Paper and other Bills to come, we all know that people on lower incomes tend to live in poorer-standard homes in poorer environments and have poorer life expectations as a result. I will not, at this stage, ask the Minister how this Bill intersects with the new policies for levelling up, although no doubt that will come up again in Committee.

In Committee I will raise an amendment on safety having a wiser definition—something more like freedom from the risk of harm arriving from the location, construction or operation of buildings that may injure the health and well-being of the individual. The Building Safety Bill is an opportunity to change fundamentally the way we deliver homes and places with multiple benefits to people—a real culture change. Putting safety, in the sense that I am talking about it, at the heart of decision-making would be a positive legacy from the challenges of the pandemic and a response to the tragedy of Grenfell, and would match the ambition at the heart of the levelling-up agenda.

On that note, it is my great privilege to hand over to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester for his valedictory speech.

Housing Strategy

Lord Crisp Excerpts
Wednesday 24th March 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Crisp Portrait Lord Crisp (CB) [V]
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My Lords, it is a real pleasure and privilege to join this debate and hear so many excellent speeches from noble Lords around the Room. I welcome this important and thoughtful report. It is wonderful to see the Church leading by example and making significant and long-term commitments about its own land and resources. Something that has come through in this debate for me, starting with my noble friend Lord Best, but also from other noble Lords, is thinking about which other major landowners could be persuaded to do the same. What a tremendous moment it would be if more land became available more easily from some of the great institutions of our society to create affordable housing and address the needs of millions, including many young people. The Church would really be blazing a trail.

The report reminds us that it is the responsibility of us all, not just the Government and the Church, to address what is a national scandal. I do not just mean an acute scandal, represented by the appalling Grenfell Tower tragedy, but a long-term decline in standards of housing, hidden from most of us, who are, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, pointed out, sitting here in our comfortable homes—I speak personally here, of course.

How is it that, in the fifth or sixth richest country in the world, so many people live in poor conditions that are damaging their health, and so many of them, and others, are worried about their housing for the future and where they will live tomorrow, next month and next year? For some, the question is where they will sleep tonight. Providing decent shelter for ourselves and our families is one of the most basic human needs and human rights. We have seen a long decline, described in many reports over recent years, and this report rightly calls for a long-term strategy. It rightly calls for affordable homes and stronger communities. The two are intimately linked and I, like others, support the values that the report contains.

Coming almost at the end of the speakers’ list, I will not try to repeat what others have said, but I want to pick up some of the wider issues of quality, health and planning. In doing so, I emphasise that this is about the quantity of houses as well as quality of houses—both are important.

Covid, as the most reverend Primate and other noble Lords have said, has shone a light on the great inequalities in our society, housing being one of them. How many people have been trapped by lockdown in poor, unhealthy housing—sometimes literally trapped with abusive partners? Covid may have emphasised these problems, but even in good times, as other noble Lords have said, poor housing causes major problems of damp, pollution, cold and much more, damaging the health and lives of the people who live there.

Taking this health perspective beyond the individual, housing is vital to the NHS care system and its functioning. I know from a report I did on mental health how many people are incarcerated in mental hospitals simply because adequate appropriate housing is not available to them. Of course, the NHS and other public services, including care homes, need key workers who need key workers’ housing.

Housing and health are intimately linked but surely we have some of this the wrong way round? At the moment, our houses should be enhancing people’s lives, rather than damaging them, and helping us thrive. I noticed that both the most reverend Primate and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester talked about flourishing and human flourishing, no doubt intentionally going back to pre-Christian times and to Aristotle and eudaimonia: enabling people to live a good life, a life worth living, human flourishing. I think this should be a great theme—going beyond housing—for our society at this time.

Things are connected to housing, not just health, which is something that the great Victorian reformers understood. Good housing is good for the economy and for society, as well as for the individual. We have a great tradition in this country, from those reformers and model villages via Homes for Heroes, garden cities and the Parker Morris standards, which meant that we built very decent houses in the first half of the 20th century. However, more recently we have gone down a different route. There are excellent houses being built, of course, but there is too much small housing, too cheaply built, that maximises land values and investment returns, rather than better-quality housing that improves individual lives and, in the longer term, has better long-term social and economic returns.

The Government’s current approach to planning seems set to reinforce some of these problems, taking away power from local planners and passing it to national politicians and, in some cases, effectively to major developers. The Minister will say that the Government have promoted design standards and encouraged planning authorities to set local standards, but there are too many ways to get round these, particularly for permitted developments. Can the Government really believe that these measures are enough to turn the tide and lead to a new generation of homes where people can flourish?

I believe that we need some mandatory basic standards in areas such as space, daylight, insulation—for sound as well as heat—access to green spaces and amenities, and more, if we are to see the transformation that is needed. Taking this further, I hope to introduce a healthy homes Bill after the Queen’s Speech—depending of course on the ballot. The Bill has been drafted by the Town and Country Planning Association and would create a new unifying duty for all new housing on promoting health, safety and well-being, and would introduce a small number of basic standards for all housing. I very much hope, of course, that the Church, as well as the Government, will support it.

This introduction of standards need not be bureaucratic: they can be simple and must be small in number, and must of course permit some local variation —for example, access to local amenities, as I mentioned, would be very different in rural areas from in the centre of cities. But the Government have already accepted the principle of standards by introducing some. For example, they have introduced space standards for permitted development—although, as I understand it, only in response to pressure from their Back-Benchers in another place, rather than as a matter of principle.

I have asked the Minister why space standards are there for permitted development but not for all new housing. From his response, I understand that local authorities have the option to include nationally described space standards in local planning policies, subject to demonstrating viability and need—it seems to me that that last qualification is very important and a major let-out clause. But I do not understand why, if mandatory space standards without that qualification are appropriate for permitted development, those same standards are not appropriate for all new housing. I would be grateful if he could answer that point today.

This approach could even save some bureaucracy. I am not an expert in this field, but I understand that there are real issues, and sometimes clashes, between planning and building regulations. A duty on health, safety and well-being would unify and could be used to simplify some of those regulations.

I finish by returning to the most reverend Primate. I congratulate the Church on this excellent report, all it contains and everything that it may lead to. It is vital that the Government now respond positively, making a commitment to literally build back better, creating homes that enhance health and well-being, that are good in the long term for our society and economy, and that promote human flourishing. As the most reverend Primate said, this is about the heart of our society: what it is, who we are and where our treasure is.