On 24th May 2023, the House of Lords debated the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill in Grand Committee. The Bishop of Bristol tabled amendments to the bill that would remove the existing confusion in law on whether local authorities can offer grants to places of worship:
Amendment 485: After Clause 214, insert the following new Clause—
“Removal of prohibition on local authority from making grants to churches etc. In section 8(1)(i) of the Local Government Act 1894 (works to church property), omit “, not being property relating to affairs of the church or held for an ecclesiastical charity”.”
Member’s explanatory statement: This amendment would remove the prohibition concerning churches and ecclesiastical charities in section 8(1)(i) of the Local Government Act 1894 and would ensure that local authorities’ spending power under section 8(1)(k) could be used to make grants to places of worship.
The Lord Bishop of Bristol: My Lords, I am pleased to speak to my Amendments 485, 505, 510 and 512. I thank the Government for making time so soon after the conclusion of the debate on Monday. I declare my interests as a board member of the Church Commissioners, as set out in the register, and as the Church of England’s lead bishop for church buildings. Noble Lords will also recall the debate on Amendment 163, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, which took place earlier in Committee on 15 March.
I tabled these four amendments to clarify the issue of local authority funding responsibilities for all Christian churches, including parish churches. The Bill affords the opportunity to bring much-needed clarity to this issue and resolve a long-standing problem. I am delighted to say that these amendments have received strong cross-party support, and I am particularly grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Best, and the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for acting as sponsors. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, is unable to be in her place today, but I am assured of her continued support for these amendments.
On 22nd May 2023, the House of Lords debated the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill in committee. The Bishop of Chelmsford spoke in the debate, in support of a government amendment to the bill that would require local authorities to transfer school premises to charitable trusts in charge of academies, establishing parity with local authority maintained schools:
The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, following the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, I rise to speak in favour of government Amendment 467F and at the outset say that my right reverend friend the Bishop of Durham, who leads for the Church of England on education, very much regrets that he cannot be in his place.
We are grateful to the Department for Education and the department for levelling up for working together and with us in the Church to fulfil the Government’s commitment to bringing forward legislation to safeguard statutory protections relating to issues arising from the occupation of land by Church academies. The decision not to progress the Schools Bill might have meant that this uncontroversial but important change to legislation would have been lost, so it is very good to have the amendment in this Bill, which will maintain the important legacy of educational endowments that provide land for the purposes of a school with a religious character. This is important for all schools with a religious character, not just Church of England schools, and it will remove a significant barrier on the journey to academisation for Church schools, which is vital in the Government’s policy aims, as such schools make up one-third of the entire school sector and seek to serve local communities up and down the country.
On 3rd May 2023, the House of Lords debated the Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill in committee. The Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich spoke in support of amendments to the bill tabled by Baroness Young of Old Scone which would require consultations to take place on developments affecting ancient woodlands:
The Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich: My Lords, I too add my support for the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and pay tribute to the work she has done in this area. I declare an interest as someone who grows trees and has contributed to the green canopy project in Suffolk. We managed to plant 1.3 million trees under that auspice, which was more than a third of the national total. We were completely committed through various networks of people to this and, indeed, to the preservation of ancient woodlands.
On 3rd May 2023, the House of Lords debated the Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill in committee. The Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich spoke in support of amendments to the bill tabled by Lord Best and Lady Warwick, and supported by the Bishop of Chelmsford, relating to housing development and the infrastructure levy:
The Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich: My Lords, I support Amendment 335 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, and Amendments 336 and 337 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best, to which my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford has added her name as the Church of England’s lead bishop for housing. I am aware, as others have commented, that we are touching on matters that will arise again in the 10th group.
On 3rd May 2023, the House of Lords debated the Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill in committee. The Bishop of Exeter spoke in support of amendments to the bill tabled by Lord Greenhalgh, seeking to ensure that emergency services are considered during planning and reform:
The Lord Bishop of Exeter: My Lords, I rise in support Amendments 324, 329, 342, 346, 347, 351, 352 and 360 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, and to which I have added my name. They concern planning reform and the emergency services.
A robust and effective planning process is essential for the flourishing of our communities. A key aspect of this is to ensure the adequate provision of emergency services. I welcome the fact that the Bill has included emergency services in the definition of infrastructure under Schedule 11, but, historically, this has not always been the case. It remains the fact that local authorities are not obliged to take into account the views and concerns of the emergency services.
On 24th April 2023, the House of Lords debated amendments to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill in its 11th day of the committee stage. The Bishop of Guildford spoke in support of an amendment to the bill tabled by the Earl of Lytton that would “implement a building safety remediation scheme to ensure that buildings with building safety risks are put right without costs to leaseholders.”
The Lord Bishop of Guildford: My Lords, for six years in the early 90s I was a priest in Notting Hill, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and had never lived in a place where the vision of levelling up was quite so necessary and quite so localised. The very wealthy were often living cheek by jowl with the very poor, and meanwhile, on looking north from one of our churches was the unmistakeable sight of a brutalist 24-floor block of flats on Grenfell Road, which 25 years later was to become the scene of an unspeakable, though sadly not quite unimaginable, tragedy.
Making buildings safe for leaseholders has since become a priority for the Government, which is to be welcomed. As the noble Lord indicated, this support remains both limited and partial, creating a new distinction between the haves and have-nots of leaseholding when it comes to the most basic of principles: that the homes in which we live, work and raise our families should be safe. I happened to meet one of those have-not leaseholders this morning, for whom insuring his flat, let alone selling it, has become virtually impossible.
On 20th April 2023, the House of Lords debated amendments to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. The Bishop of Leeds spoke in favour of an amendment that would tie the definition of “affordable homes” to median income:
The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, I shall speak in support of Amendment 242 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell. I do so having consulted the Bishop of Chelmsford, who leads for the Church of England on housing but is unable to be here today. It is clear, I think, that we need to rethink what genuinely affordable housing is and how an adequate supply can be delivered. In London, the south-east and many other areas across the country, the current affordable housing for rent definition of 20% below market rates makes little difference to those on a median income, let alone those in most need. Without redefinition, we will continue to work under the illusion that homes classed as affordable are helping to solve the housing affordability crisis, when for the most part they are not.
Of course, we need a multifaceted approach to solve the lack of affordable homes. I was interested to learn from the Bishop of Chelmsford that Vicky Ford MP has been addressing this in relation to Chelmsford. During her 10-minute rule Bill debate on 22 February, she spoke to the shortage of affordable housing we face locally and nationally. Her Affordable Housing (Conversion of Commercial Property) Bill would apply affordable housing obligations to conversions of commercial property to residential occupancy. The Bill is due its Second Reading in the Commons on 26 May, and we certainly hope that it will make some progress.
On 18th April 2023, the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich spoke in support of amendments to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill regarding the importance of housing for older people:
The Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich: I shall speak very briefly in support of the group of amendments, on none of which would I dare wish to claim to be an agnostic. I particularly support Amendment 207 proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Best, to which my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford has added her name. The amendment addresses the important role of local authorities to consider older groups’ housing needs when developing local plans. Together with Amendment 221 from the noble Lord, Lord Best, these changes to the Bill would deliver a more effective response to the shortfall in appropriate housing for older people at all levels of government.
On 18th April 2023, the House of Lords debated the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill in committee. The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich spoke in support of amendments to the bill that would ensure planning decisions by local authorities and other conducive to reducing carbon emissions:
The Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich: My Lords, I speak in general support of this group of amendments. I agree with those who have said that they are both crucial and urgent. Specifically, I speak in support of Amendment 309 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. I will take a leaf out of the book of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in that, despite the points I will make having been made, I will barrel on regardless. I will not, necessarily, reflect on what my dying words might be.
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.
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