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Social Housing - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:12 pm on 31st January 2019.

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Photo of The Bishop of Chelmsford The Bishop of Chelmsford Bishop 12:12 pm, 31st January 2019

As Bishop of Chelmsford, I am also proud to be the Bishop of Becontree, Harlow and Basildon, three of the nation’s boldest attempts by policymakers in the last century to address the housing needs of London and the south-east. When Becontree was built in the 1920s, it was Europe’s largest public housing development. The Government were then building homes fit for heroes after the First World War, and London County Council had a bold vision for 27,000 new homes and the infrastructure that went with them, which we do not see in housing estates today. There are many being built across Essex. It is great to move in, provided that you do not own a car—there is nowhere to park it—and provided that nobody who ever visits you has a car, because there is nowhere for them either.

The era of large housing estates has gone, but so has the vision to build proper communities. I therefore very enthusiastically support the Motion from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the need to increase our commitment to provide social housing. This debate is very timely. We all see the reason for this in the terrible rise in homelessness. I pay tribute to the work done by churches and charities up and down this country to support those who are homeless.

Until fairly recently, most of us would grow up, live, work and raise a family in the same place, but we now live networked lives. We therefore end up gravitating towards living beside people who look and think as we do. But the danger is that a networked, aspirational society becomes a disintegrated society, a society with rising levels of aspiration but correspondingly higher levels of discontentment and unhappiness. Let me put it plainly: there is something wrong and we store up great trouble for ourselves when people cannot even aspire to live in the communities where they grew up.

Creating more diverse but integrated communities is challenging but it provides a better context for human flourishing, so please forgive me for making a theological point: you cannot be yourself on your own. The only way we can fully be what we are meant to be is in community with each other. The answer is plain and it is, of course, our common expectation: builders and developers must ensure that a significant proportion of the dwellings they build is affordable social housing.

However, we know that this is not happening. Let me point out one reason that we could address. Using what are known as viability assessments, developers can avoid or reduce the proportion of dwellings set aside for social or affordable housing, arguing that such housing undermines the overall profitability of the development. I am not suggesting that builders develop sites without profit but we could look at this—it could be more transparent—and then we could build not only housing developments but communities.