Bishop of Ely supports Healthy Homes Bill

On 15th July 2022, the house debated the Healthy Homes Bill at its second reading. The Bishop of Ely spoke in the debate on this Private Member’s Bill. His speech is below, along with contributions from other peers:

The Lord Bishop of Ely: My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak in the Second Reading of this very important Bill. The lead Bishop on housing, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, is sadly unable to be with us. However, she has asked me also to pass on her gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, for his work in bringing the Healthy Homes Bill forward.

In his book Reimagining Britain, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote that we need to reimagine housing. He said:

“Reimagined core values and practices in any housing development will be linked to health in many forms. Good communities build financial, physical, mental, spiritual and relational health.”

As the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, said, this is about linking not just housing and health but education. In my time as Bishop of Ely, when we have built church schools on crowded new housing estates I have always insisted on having space in front of the schools so that, rather than doubling the cramp that people feel, we have pram plazas rather than pram wars.

One mistake that has been made over and again is to reduce our housing crisis simply to the idea of an excess of demand over supply. The consequence is that we assume that, by building more houses faster, we will somehow sort out the other problems around housing. This excessive focus on the volume of houses to be built has caused us to overlook their quality. In the headlong rush to deliver the numbers, we are compromising on the basic standards for healthy homes. We have lost sight of the purpose, for if we go back to the question of why we are building all these houses, it is to create healthy homes where individuals can thrive and healthy neighbourhoods where social bonds can form, where decent housing provides for productive citizens.

Our nation has a history of slum clearance going back to the 19th century and campaigns after both world wars in the 20th century to build decent new homes. In the 1920s, a young priest called Basil Jellicoe, upon discovering the dire state of his parishioners’ housing in Camden, founded the St Pancras House Improvement Society. His obituary in the Times—he died when he was only 36—said that he

“resolved that he would not rest till his people had homes fit to live in, and the rehousing schemes started by his society have already provided many excellent flats with gardens, trees, ponds, swings for the children, and other amenities.”

It is concerning that, despite these works and many like them in the post-war developments, in many respects the quality of homes in this country has gone backwards in the last few decades. When I was a curate in Gateshead, high-quality social housing produced many fine athletes. It is terrible that the housing that is being provided now produces children who can barely breathe. That there are no legally enforceable standards across many aspects of our housing design and construction means that many have been forced to live in poor-quality, overcrowded housing. It is an ironic reflection on our current housing market that homes for sale with good-sized rooms and spacious gardens are not found on new developments but are often ex-council houses, such as the ones I knew back in the 1980s.

It is right and very welcome that the Bill seeks to introduce “healthy homes principles” to be committed to, implemented and monitored. I am sure noble Lords will agree that these principles are good and appropriate. They seek to reduce fire risk, provide liveable space, ensure access to natural light, accessibility, inclusivity and resilience to climate change in homes that are secure and reduce noise and light pollution.

Finally, in drawing my remarks to a close, I observe the affinity of the principles set out in the Healthy Homes Bill with those set out in the Church of England’s Coming Home report—those being the five “S” principles that good housing should be sustainable, safe, stable, sociable and satisfying. I and other Lords spiritual look forward to working with the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, to support this Bill’s passage.

Hansard

Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab): The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely talked about the importance of quality and not just quantity; this is one area where we have got it wrong over the last few decades. We need to build more homes, but, as we have heard in the debate, standards really matter. This debate has brought a huge amount of experience and expertise that your Lordships’ House can offer the Government in order to develop this Bill. I urge the Minister to put her full support behind the Bill and to work with the noble Lord, Lord Crisp. We strongly support this Bill and urge the Government to do the same.

Lord Crisp (CB): I was grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely for drawing attention to the tension between the rush to build houses, and quality and standards. Rushing to build poor houses leads to major problems in the longer term. 

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