Archbishop of York speaks on importance of building communities as well as homes

On 24th January 2017 Labour Peer Baroness Andrews moved “That the Grand Committee takes note of the Report from the Select Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment (Session 2015–16, HL Paper 100).” The Archbishop of York, Most Revd John Sentamu, spoke in the debate, highlighting the need not only for new homes but for community resources too:

york-170117The Archbishop of York: My Lords, it is essential that more homes are built to support the population of the United Kingdom. Parliament’s own publication estimates that a minimum of 230,000 new homes need to be built each year, a level of building not sustained since the 1970s, and two to three times above the current levels of supply. Some 81,000 households were estimated to be homeless or in temporary accommodation in 2013-14. It is young people in their late teens and 20s who are most unable to afford rents, particularly in the private sector. The gap between average household income and house price continues to rise, further reducing affordability for many households. Therefore, as affordable new-build housing is essential, the quality and effort put into designing the living environment and communal space becomes even more important. It is particularly relevant that different types of housing are integrated as much as possible, so that different types and groups of people meet each other in the course of everyday life, rather than being shut away behind gates or stigmatised. Derwenthorpe is a good example of integrated housing provision on a very large site.

Community is not just about buildings and streetscapes—it is about the people who live and interact in a particular locality. As the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government recently said, government,

“can build … homes … but alone can’t build communities … a sense of belonging or force people to love thy neighbour as thyself”.

Archbishop Justin in his speech on the debate on shared values on 2 December 2016 spoke of the importance of intermediate groups and institutions, saying that that was where,

“democracy is founded and our diversity preserved and nurtured for the common good … Intermediate groups are where we build social capital, integrate, learn loyalties, practices and values, learn to disagree well and learn to build hope and resilience”.—[Official Report, 2/12/17; col. 417.]

Newly created settlements that do not allocate sufficient physical space for these intermediate groups and institutions to be formed will struggle to become cohesive communities in their own right and are more likely to fail to integrate into existing communities.

Church congregations make significant contributions to strengthening existing, and contributing to building new communities. This can be achieved through formal, organised activities and events, such as regular social gatherings—coffee mornings or lunch clubs—particularly for those of whatever age who are at home alone during the day. After-school clubs, activities for families, children and young people all help to bring people of all ages together. Services such as Messy Church, cafe church and other new approaches help people to engage with faith and get to know one another at the same time. This contribution to the creation of social capital in a settlement, both bonding and bridging, is done most effectively when working in partnership with organisations and groups that already exist or are forming in the community. However, it is the informal networks of friendship, good neighbourliness and participation in other groups and organisations by congregation members that make the most significant, but often hidden, contribution to building community. Research into the relationship between congregations and social capital shows that it is church members who are the glue that holds communities together, with the impetus to bring people together, thereby addressing isolation and loneliness, but also building community where it has not existed before.

The National Planning Policy Framework states at paragraph 55:

“To promote sustainable development in rural areas, housing should be located where it will enhance or maintain the vitality of rural communities”.

New developments to be built under the NPPF must be sustainable environmentally, economically and socially. It is not clear if enough attention has been paid to the social aspects of some new developments. New-build communities need to be linked to existing housing in the area and provided with safe, joined-up pedestrian access and cycle routes. Streetscapes and the shape of developments all have relevance to linking new and existing residents. Developments that turn their backs on their neighbours, or are turned in on themselves, are not conducive to building cohesive and resilient communities. Her Majesty’s Government have endorsed the findings of the Select Committee to encourage developers to use the Manual for Streets. Again, this is to be welcomed.

On this theme, providing access to much-needed services is also part of building community. This is not just medical care, shops and schools—important though these are—but multi-use spaces, such as cafés, pubs, community halls or places of worship. The provision of green space and playing fields, as well as play areas, makes a large contribution to individual and community well-being. Green infrastructure makes an important contribution to sustainability, as well as community building. It is a missed opportunity not to specify minimum standards for this. Leaving decisions solely to local planning authorities risks losing the potential for fully integrated land use.

The health of people living in places with new-build housing would benefit from the use of health impact assessments—HIAs—which is strongly recommended by the Select Committee. In their response, the Government have endorsed this approach, particularly for large-scale developments where the local planning authority considers it germane. It would be appropriate to point out the value of HIAs to mitigate negative impacts and maximise the potential gains in health, and to encourage more widespread use of this tool, beyond larger-scale developments. Public Health England supports a free service for HIAs to be developed. The recognition that, particularly for large-scale development through the National Infrastructure Commission, engagement with local people ensures the maximum sustainable benefits resulting from the new development is welcome. We look forward to the more consensual approach to development promised by the establishment of this body.

The strengthening of neighbourhood planning, supported by the Neighbourhood Planning Bill debated on 17 January 2017, is welcome, particularly the proposal to take into account in planning decisions neighbourhood plans that have been approved but not yet passed by a local referendum. Communities formed from existing and new-build housing will be cohesive only if existing communities have a say in how the new development is built.

The Earl of Lytton (CB)…I have come across plenty of wealthy, well-educated but undeniably loutish and antisocial types in high-value locations. As the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York said, there is social capital at stake here, and that has economic worth.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab)…The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York spoke of the importance of building communities, creating social capital and good neighbours. I agree very much with his remarks. We have to get back to the situation where councils and housing associations are allowed to pay their full role in dealing with the crisis before us and there is a greater role for the co-operative sector.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government and Wales Office (Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth) (Con).…I very much welcome what the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York said about the importance of delivering more homes. I appreciate that we are looking at the importance of community here as well, but we must not lose sight of the key importance of delivering more homes, which in all fairness we are beginning to do, as I think the statistics show. There is much still to be done and it is right that the housing should be appropriate for the young and the old and so on. People were very fair in acknowledging that the Prime Minister has shown an intention to make this a key issue.

….The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York touched on the importance of a sense of being, and that again is captured by ensuring that we have a pleasant community and by touching on all the important needs—cultural, environmental, health, access to churches and religious buildings. All this demonstrates what a complex area this is.


%d bloggers like this: