On 7th February 2017, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth made a statement to the House of Lords on the publication of the Government’s new White Paper on housing. The Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, responded, welcoming the report and asking about the Government’s plans to develop rural housing.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans My Lords, on these Benches we are acutely aware of the huge crisis in housing. We hear stories about this from all around the country and we share some of the concerns that have been raised from the Benches opposite. There are a number of things which we welcome hugely. Examples are the new powers for local authorities to prevent land banking, measures to encourage local authorities to work together over larger areas, and new requirements for local authorities to undertake a more thorough assessment of housing needs. Continue reading
On 15th December 2016 Lord Kennedy of Southwark asked Her Majesty’s Government “what assessment they have made of the impact of the availability of affordable housing on the ability of both private and public sector organisations to recruit and retain staff.” The Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, asked a follow-up question:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, the lack of affordable housing in recruiting local workers is also felt acutely in many rural areas. Rural exemption sites have proved a good way of providing affordable housing, but with the uncertainty over the recent extension of right to buy, some landowners are reluctant to bring forward land. In light of this, will Her Majesty’s Government publish clear guidelines on the potential for restrictive covenants on rural exemption sites to provide affordable housing in perpetuity for local workers? Continue reading
On 8th December 2016 Baroness Gardner of Parkes asked Her Majesty’s Government “whether they intend to give powers to local authorities to prevent the further loss of long-term residential accommodation resulting from increases in short-term holiday lets.” The Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, asked a follow up question:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, back in July the Minister kindly wrote to me to reassure me that the promised £60 million fund to enable rural and coastal communities to provide accommodation for local people was still on course, despite it having been delayed following the events in June. It is nearly 2017 and I do not think we have heard any more about that fund. Can the Minister assure your Lordships’ House that the scheme is still on course? When will the money be made available for those communities suffering most from second-home ownership? Continue reading
On 24th November 2016 the Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, led a short debate in the House of Lords on rural bus services. His opening speech is below, along with the Minister’s response. The speeches of the other eight Peers who took part can be read here.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of research published by the Local Government Association showing that subsidised bus services in England have reduced by more than 12% in the past year, what assessment they have made of the sustainability of rural communities.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords contributing their considerable expertise to this debate, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, whose wealth of experience is a welcome addition to this House. I declare an interest as president of the Rural Coalition and bishop of a diocese with large rural areas, some of which have seen considerable cuts in bus service provision in recent years.
As many noble Lords in this House will know first-hand, rural bus services provide a lifeline for rural communities, creating vital routes of connection to other parts of the country. For anyone who struggles to drive themselves because of age or a disability, or because they do not have a car, buses are often the only means of transport that connects rural residents with work, friends and family. With an increasing number of local services cut from rural towns and larger villages, the need to be able to connect with urban areas only increases. Continue reading
On 27th October 2016 the House of Lords held a short debate on a question from Lord Foster of Bath “to ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ensure the rollout of superfast fibre broadband to homes across the country.” The Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, spoke in the debate:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, my thanks, too, go to the noble Lord, Lord Foster, for securing this important debate. I, too, want to address rural issues and I declare an interest as president of the Rural Coalition. Many of our members are deeply concerned about this area. As other noble Lords have mentioned, nearly half of rural households in the UK currently struggle with broadband speeds of less than 10 megabits per second. Around one in five rural households can only access broadband speeds of under 5 megabits per second, and a significant proportion cannot access any broadband at all. This lack of connectivity acts as a huge obstacle to the growth of the rural economy and to rural sustainability. This is even more important as we get ourselves geared up for Brexit. Continue reading
On 25th October 2016 Baroness Donaghy asked Her Majesty’s Government “what is their estimate of the number of households currently in fuel poverty; and what action they intend to take to reduce that number.” The Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, asked a follow up question:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, there is a particular problem with fuel poverty in rural areas, particularly remote rural areas. What steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking to promote the use of renewable forms of heating, especially in off-grid areas in the countryside? Continue reading
On the 13th October 2016 Lord Bird led a debate in the House of Lords: “That this House takes note of the cultural, civic and educational significance of libraries, bookshops and booksellers in the United Kingdom.” The Bishop of St Albans the Rt Revd Alan Smith, spoke about the impact closure could have on rural communities and the importance of imaginative partnerships which are developing between libraries and churches.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I, too, add my congratulations the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for securing this debate. I want to speak today about the future of libraries and other shared community spaces in rural areas, as a vital contributor to rural sustainability. I should declare an interest as the president of the Rural Coalition, which brings together a range of rural interest groups, and as a bishop responsible for a large number of rural parishes across Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.