On 27th March 2023 the House of Lords debated the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill in the 8th day of the committee stage. The Bishop of Derby spoke in favour of amendments to the bill that would ensure health and wellbeing of residents is taken into account in housing planning:
The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I am glad that today we have the opportunity to consider the health and well-being dimensions of planning. It is my view that development planning cannot be truly successful if it does not also enhance health and well-being. I speak first in favour of Amendment 188 and Amendments 394 to 399 from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp. The right reverend Prelates the Lord Bishop of London, the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford, the Lord Bishop of Manchester and the Lord Bishop of Carlisle, who have previously spoken on these issues, regret they cannot be in their place today. However, I have no doubt they would want to give their support to these amendments were they in the Chamber.
I am sure noble Lords will recall stories of what can happen when living conditions deteriorate. Awaab Ishak’s death in December 2020 from a respiratory condition caused by “extensive mould” was an incredibly tragic story, as was that of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah’s death, partly caused by toxic air near where she lived. It is welcome that the Government are working to deliver Awaab’s Law through the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill and that Ella’s Law, the Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill, continues its journey through Parliament in the other place.
Today, we have the opportunity to put health and well-being at the heart of regulating our built environment: an essential step to preventing such awful outcomes and instead facilitating the flourishing of individuals and communities. The amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, set out the healthy homes principles for new housing stock. Those 11 principles range from safety
“in relation to the risk of fire”
“year-round thermal comfort”
and more. Surely these are planning standards that we all can agree are good to uphold.
Not only that but, as we have heard, these principles would significantly benefit the public purse. Research by the Building Research Establishment found that 2.6 million homes in England—roughly 11% of them—were of poor quality and hazardous to their occupants. As a result, those poor-quality homes cost the NHS, as we have heard, up to £1.4 billion every year. My view echoes that of the Archbishops’ housing commission that
“good housing should be sustainable, safe, stable, sociable and satisfying”.
Such housing would significantly reduce the strain placed on the NHS. I believe these amendments to be a valuable addition to this Bill.
The Government have acknowledged that housing and health are key to the levelling-up agenda. However, the Bill as it stands contains no clear provisions that achieve that objective. I echo the challenge to the assertion made by the Minister’s all-Peers letter of 27 January that the healthy homes provisions are being dealt with by existing laws or alternative policy.
While the NPPF and national technical housing standards cover some elements of issues addressed by these principles, these are not mandatory legal duties for local decision makers, and nor is there an overall statutory duty on the Secretary of State to uphold the healthy homes principles. Therefore, I hope the Government will accept these amendments.
Amendment 241, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Young, would also be an invaluable addition to the Bill. Its introduction of a new statutory duty to reduce health inequalities and improve well-being would also help the Government to address poor health, described in their own levelling up White Paper, as we have heard, as
“One of the gravest inequalities faced by our most disadvantaged communities”.
By requiring local authorities to include policies that meet this objective in their local development plans, his amendment will help to transform our built environments into spaces that help create good health and well-being, and, as such, reduce health inequalities.
As pointed out by the Better Planning Coalition, this proposed new clause is a necessary addition given that pre-existing documents and provisions have not been sufficient to stop the growing health inequalities in recent years. I refer to research by Professor Sir Michael Marmot of the Institute of Health Equity, which found that the health gap between wealthy and deprived areas grew between 2010 and 2020. I therefore hope that the Minister will consider this amendment.
Extracts from the speeches that followed:
Lord Stunell (LD): The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby spoke about the impact on health in communities. I would add life expectancy in communities. There is a very significant connection between well-being and life expectancy and the number of healthy years that people can expect to live. It is surely the essence of the levelling-up agenda that those discrepancies and disparities are put right. I hope to hear some favourable words from the Minister, particularly as it is the next big step needed at a time when the traditional reliance on economic growth as the sole measurement of a country’s strength and resilience is losing traction.
It is losing traction not just with pale green fringe operators such as me but with tens of thousands of ordinary households around the country, which have seen all the economic growth bypass them completely. They have seen a standstill in their living standards, with little hope of progression. Building their resilience and well-being, leading to community growth, is the way ahead. It is, surely, a direction of travel that the Minister can accept. Almost by definition, the biggest losers of the mirage of growth of the last decade are those most in need of levelling up, which this Bill is supposed to be delivering. I urge the Government to listen to this debate with great care and convey to their colleagues in Whitehall the urgency of responding in a positive way to all that they hear today on this pivotal issue.
As the noble Baroness said in introducing her amendment, we have been building homes to a lower standard in energy-efficiency terms than we needed to, because in 2016 the new Conservative Government scrapped the move to zero-carbon standards which the coalition Government had signed off. We have built, pretty slowly and with lots of hiccups, 1 million new homes since then to lower standards than would have been the case if those proposals had come into force in 2016. That means that those 1 million homes themselves will have to be upgraded before we get to the standard required by 2050.
Of course, I have already mentioned the rush of converted homes under permitted development rights. It is not just energy performance that is bad but even basics such as daylighting may be missing in their case. The Town and Country Planning Association drew attention to that in its brief. Again, I have been pre-empted by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby quoting the Building Research Establishment figures of the millions of people living in unhealthy homes with hazardous conditions far away from the well-being that should be the case—all of whom would be beneficiaries of a fresh start with a healthy homes policy.
Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab): My noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath articulately outlined how our built environment affects our health. He talked about the widening gap between richest and poorest and the impact of health inequalities. This refers back to that mission. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, mentioned the high number of excess winter deaths. These are all things that can be tackled if we improve our planning regulations. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, suggested that perhaps a revised NPPF could include some revised commitments in this area. It would be a very straightforward thing for the Government to commit to do. The problem is that building regulations are focused on minimum standards of physical safety rather than the proactive promotion of people’s wider health and well-being. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby mentioned the terrible outcomes that can result from this particular focus.
Planning law, as we have heard, has no overall legal duty for the Secretary of State to promote health and well-being. It contains very weak provisions on the promotion of sustainable development, but none of them refers to human health and well-being. My noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch discussed how we can make walking and cycling more readily accessible, as well as the importance of access to nature and green spaces and reclaiming derelict land. The problem is that, because the framework is advisory and discretionary, we do not make any progress. That alone should justify the approach in the Healthy Homes Bill. The need for fundamental change is reinforced by the lack of priority given to health and well-being in national policy, and by the fact that where policy does exist, it is often expressed as a “nice to have”, rather than an essential requirement at the heart of what we should be doing. Will the Minister consider meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, to look at how these proposals can be taken forward? I think there is huge support in this House for what the noble Lord is trying to achieve.
As usual, the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, very readily and clearly introduced his Amendment 241. I thank him, because it is extremely important to have an amendment on health inequalities in this debate; it picks up the mission I mentioned earlier and looks to plug that gap in the Bill. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby mentioned Professor Sir Michael Marmot. I understand—the noble Lord, Lord Young, may have told me this—that he supports the noble Lord’s Bill. He supported greater use of the planning system to address health inequalities in his landmark Fair Society, Healthy Lives review. The planning sector has taken his work to heart since then, to some extent, but it needs concerted government backing if it is to deliver on what he is proposing.
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