Amendment 266

Part of Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Committee (11th Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 24 April 2023.

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Photo of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Labour 4:15, 24 April 2023

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for moving the amendment and to others who have spoken. I too was a member of the original committee, although not the follow-up committee. It is amazing to look at how life has changed so quickly since the report in 2017 and the subsequent report. Since then we have had the pandemic and a whole new experience of living in a different world entirely, including a different world of work, from what we had in the past.

Leaving aside nightlife, look at what is happening with online trading and with the high street. When one wanders around Oxford Street one sees quite large premises now empty and not being used. The Strand has been transformed completely from what it was like 20 years ago. Companies that had been there for almost a century and a half have disappeared, yet the properties remain empty. What will happen to them? Without any doubt, if they fail to get commercial operatives they will be converted into residential premises in due course.

The issue that we have before us—leaving aside the nightlife—is one that was going to confront the Government anyway. I believe they have still not come to terms with the fact—I am not sure whether my party has—that the party that tells people they can work from home at least two, three or four days a week is going to get the votes of workers in this country. They do not want to travel, with all the inconvenience that goes along with it. They do not want to be in the city centre, with all the pressures. They want to be working at home, close to their families, and to have greater freedom and control of their lives. That is going to happen, particularly as we start moving into the metaverse and the completely different way of working that comes with that. That has a knock-on effect on accommodation, with changes at home for people to work there and, more particularly, with what happens to empty offices and the nightlife that takes place around them.

The present arrangements are far from suitable for dealing with changing circumstances. For example, if something else came along quite unexpectedly, like Covid-19 did, we could again see massive changes taking place in a very short space of time, when we have not even coped with the knock-on effects from the last change. I hope the Government are going to be reasonable this time around. This is a reasonable amendment that should not be lightly dismissed or ignored in the way that it has been previously.