I too thank the noble Lord, Lord German, for providing this opportunity to debate these measures and I note his very important point about procedure, particularly when dealing with such a controversial subject. I also join with other noble Lords in congratulating the two new Peers who made their maiden speeches today.
My starting point, like that of others, is that it is vital to get more housing and that we use brownfield sites. But—and there are many buts, relating to quality, the impact on health, and the impact of blighting some areas. I want to make five points and to suggest a way forward.
First, the current permitted development regime has had many damaging impacts in parts of the country—not everywhere, but in many places. I think of areas like Hounslow and Harlow where very poor housing has resulted from permitted development, with houses in factories, in industrial units, and houses that are simply not suitable for their purpose. That is not just about individual suffering because it can also blight an area and an economy. On Monday, a Bradford architect pointed out to me the effect of cheap and shoddy development on an area, particularly somewhere like Bradford, which is desperately seeking to revitalise the centre of town. Building slums in the centre of Bradford is not going to help. Building slums in poor areas magnifies existing problems. I believe that these regulations do nothing to improve the situation; looking at them in detail shows that they add complexity to an already complex situation.
Looking ahead, we all understand, I am sure, the link between housing and health, and how poor housing can damage mental and physical health in all kinds of ways, from cold and damp to air and noise pollution, overcrowding, fire safety and much more. The evidence is compelling and Covid has reinforced this point for all of us. What if we thought about this differently and thought about developing housing that was deliberately built to enhance health and well-being, and promote human flourishing? Should that not be our aim, rather than just producing cheap and rather shoddy developments?
On a positive note, I am delighted that the Government have accepted the principle that there must be standards of access to daylight, and space standards. I stress “standards”; not things to be considered during development, but clear, compulsory standards. This is a very important precedent to have set. I suggest that we need standards in other areas, too, from noise insulation to air pollution and access to green spaces and amenities. There is a way forward. The Town and Country Planning Association has produced a draft Bill on healthy housing, which does precisely what I suggest. It places the focus on developing housing for health and well-being, liveability and resilience in the face of future pandemics, and sets out 10 areas for principles and standards that all developments must follow. I hope that it will be introduced in Parliament in due course, but I would welcome the opportunity to discuss it with the Minister in the meantime.
This proposed Bill has an additional advantage. Current planning and building regulations are horribly complex, contradictory and confusing. The Bill offers a new focus on a single set of essential principles and standards that has the potential to clarify the situation and unify the way forward. So I hope that the Minister will consider this point. Does he agree that it is important that the Government build on the precedent that they have already set on access to daylight and space standards—the precedent of introducing “standards”, not “things to consider”—in additional areas that will ensure that all developments are of high quality and suitable design? Can he give the House a date when the space standards referred to in the other place will be brought into effect?