Amendment 476

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Committee (14th Day) – in the House of Lords at 10:00 pm on 22 May 2023.

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Baroness Taylor of Stevenage:

Moved by Baroness Taylor of Stevenage

476: After Clause 214, insert the following new Clause—“Letterbox height: England(1) In this section “local authority” means—(a) a district council in England;(b) a county council in England for an area for which there is no district council;(c) a London borough council;(d) the Common Council of the City of London.(2) A local authority within subsection (1)(a) or (b) may, by order, direct that dwellings may not include a letterbox which is less than 70cm from the ground.”Member’s explanatory statementThis would allow local authorities in England to direct that dwellings may not include a letterbox which is less than 70cm from the ground.

Photo of Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

I apologise; it is late. Turning to our Amendment 476, I appreciate that many Members of your Lordships’ House will not have encountered the vagaries of the British letterbox—

Noble Lords:

Oh yes we have.

Photo of Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

There we go; noble Lords are on my side already. For those of us who get involved in the sharp end of politics, this is a cry from the heart. When you are facing a delivery round of several hundred doors, there are a number of hazards you will encounter: the spring-loaded letterbox designed to slam down on your fingers; the infamous brushes that make it impossible to push through anything other than the most robust card; and the vertical letterbox that is not at all compatible with efficient delivery. Worst of all, always at the end of your round, when your back is aching and your hands are battered by the aforementioned finger bashers, is the dreaded ground-level letterbox.

In a shameless attempt to try to curry favour not just with political activists of all parties but with our beloved posties who have to put up with this every day, we would dearly love to give local authorities a power to specify for new properties that there is an optimum height for letterboxes.

Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Communities and Local Government)

I cannot resist being able to speak about letterboxes. To be honest, letterbox height is important. Even those of us who are seasoned leaflet deliverers do not have the same daily meeting with letterboxes of various heights as the posties do.

From the point of view of the people who are doing their daily rounds delivering mail, we ought to have letterboxes not just at the right height but of the right width, horizontal not vertical, and where you can push thin letters through without their being crumpled up. The hard brushes and spring-loaded letterboxes should be condemned to oblivion, in my view.

Just as important is the number of Royal Mail deliverers who find, when they put their hand through a letterbox to deliver a letter, that there is a dog at the other end that takes a snap at their fingers. When people in my ward help with delivery, we give them a ruler to push through. I can show you the bite marks on the ruler. Dogs are behind those letterboxes and therefore there ought to be safeguards at the other side of the letterboxes for those who are delivering.

I had to go to one house in Yorkshire that said on the door, “Beware of the cat”. When you tried to deliver a leaflet, a paw came out, with claws out ready to strike if you were not quick enough. Beware of cats in Yorkshire, and beware of dogs everywhere.

Although we are making light of this, it is important that it is addressed: that we get letterboxes at a height where posties do not have to break their backs to deliver Royal Mail. Get rid of those horrible hard brushes—there is no need for any of that, and let us get the height right. That will be to everybody’s benefit.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I support everything the noble Baroness just said. From long experience of canvassing and getting bloody knuckles as you try to withdraw your hand from the letterbox but the spring bites them, shortly before the dog’s teeth just miss your retreating hand, I think there would be support across the House and general congratulations if the Government were able to do something along these lines, but I suspect it should not require retrofitting. Chewing up people’s front doors would just be too expensive, but any new front door should certainly not have any of these devices on it.

Photo of Lord Ravensdale Lord Ravensdale Crossbench

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 504GG in my name, and note that I am co-chair of the Midlands Engine All-Party Parliamentary Group. I thank my supporters, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for her help in refining and improving the amendment, and the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, for their support.

I have spoken before in Committee about high streets, and will try not to repeat much of what I have previously said. I do not need to speak about the importance of regenerating high streets in the regions—I know that the Government get its vital importance for levelling up. Their plans for enhanced compulsory purchase powers and high street rental auctions could form part of the solution here.

However, I have spoken to many local stakeholders about these new powers, and the consensus is that they will not do much to move the dial. They are not commensurate with the scale of the change that needs to happen if we are to look toward a future where high streets in our regional cities are bustling with activity, are pleasant environments where people want to come and spend time, and are integrated with transport systems to allow easy transit for people to spend time there.

It has been estimated that the cost of each high street rental auction could be at least £6,000. In a time of strain on local authorities’ finances, they are unlikely to be used. In any case, high street rental auctions and compulsory purchase powers have been set up to address the supply of high street units, but supply is not the issue here. Anyone looking to set up on high streets in my home city of Derby is spoilt for choice. Most landlords would not choose to have an empty property. The issue here is demand, not supply. The Government really need to look much more closely at how they can incentivise businesses to set up on high streets. This critical point should be addressed in the Bill and will move the dial.

The Government need to look at the carrot as well as the stick. Amendment 504GG contains a proposal to do exactly that. Town centre investment zones are based on a proposal from the British Property Federation to utilise the tried and tested partnership model that has worked so well in the past. They bring together key stakeholders, including local councils, businesses, landlords and local people, to create a long-term vision and strategy for the zones and create an environment that really revives an area through a zone on a high street.

Importantly, this is coupled with incentives. You create the plan, designate a town centre investment zone and get some serious incentive for businesses in return. This amendment would give local authorities the power to apply a business-rate discount for businesses operating within such a zone. As we have heard many times in Committee, including in our debates earlier today, business rates are the key problem in terms of having incentives for businesses to set up in town centres at present. This amendment would provide a way through that for town centre investment zones in the absence of longer-term reform.

Related to that, there are several other important features of the amendment that I would highlight. First, the Bill sensibly includes the need for a consultation to drill down into the detail on how this policy will work in the long term. It also includes a mechanism to ensure, critically, that local authorities do not suffer any financial loss as a result of these regulations. The Government have made progress in this area recently. I noted with interest the announcement of high street accelerators in the recent anti-social behaviour action plan; I believe that around £2.5 million of funding has been announced in 10 key areas.

This is encouraging progress but I encourage the Government to look at this issue carefully and go much further. If we are really going to put an end to years of decline on the high street, a more permanent, long-term solution is needed. Policy announcements such as high street accelerators are welcome but, by not having any basis in statute, they are always vulnerable to changing priorities. Without powers to reduce business rates, the incentives on offer may not be sufficient really to change things. Having a clear vision laid down in statute would give investors and other stakeholders the long-term certainty needed to transform the regeneration of town centres and make them the busy centres of retail activity that we all agree they should be.

The benefits to the Government doing this are clear: if the Minister accepts my amendment, the Government will have in the Bill a mechanism that will both begin to drive real change on high streets in the near term, and make the levelling-up agenda real on our high streets for all those who use them and the many more who will do so in future if we can make progress on this issue.

Photo of Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 10:15, 22 May 2023

My Lords, I shall finish speaking to our amendments in this group, if that is okay; apologies for the confusion.

Our amendments in this group reflect what we see as a series of missed opportunities in what should be a Bill that will facilitate the regeneration that is needed across the country, both to re-energise our economy and high streets and to harness the opportunities of science and technology, a new green economy and a wave of sustainable housebuilding. We also want to ensure that the regeneration element of this Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill is front and centre, not just for the major cities of the UK but for the towns, new towns, coastal communities, rural communities and market towns that feel left behind by a combination of the austerity measures imposed by government and the intense focus on a few of our major cities.

I was pleased to see in an article in Saturday’s Financial Times that the approach taken in my hometown, Stevenage, is being flagged up in an industry report, More than Stores, which says that town centres looking to reinvent themselves must blend their retail spaces with mixed residential housing, flexible office space, leisure and entertainment options, healthcare and historical heritage, which can turn high streets into lived-in spaces. The need to diversify, with more inventive uses for town centres, comes from a growing shift to online shopping. The Centre for Retail Research says that 17,000 shops closed in the UK in 2022, so our town centres must become community, visitor and business hubs, or they will not succeed.

Our Amendment 487 seeks to understand how areas are expected to have access to equal levels of infrastructure by setting a minimal level of infrastructure provision across the country. It is difficult to see how any genuine levelling up can take place when there is such different provision of medical, education, training, public transport and leisure infrastructure, and green space. Understanding the infrastructure deficit that an area is experiencing could also help us focus on what is needed from the infrastructure levy as that develops.

We do not believe that signage for local areas should be subject to national control. Therefore, our Amendment 489 would enable local authorities to provide the kind of signage that meets their local needs. Markets provide a much-needed boost to local economies. At their best, they enable new businesses to start up with relatively low costs, encouraging diversity in trading, improving footfall for town centres and high streets, and giving a much-needed outlet for growers and makers to market and sell their products. Amendment 490, tabled by my noble friend Lady Hayman, probes what support is available for town markets and whether the Government see these important contributors to our local economies as part of the wider regeneration picture.

The Bill seems to be silent on some of the key aspects of regeneration. The elements of the most successful regeneration projects must be captured and shared. Our Amendment 491 probes whether the Government will review how the introduction of homes in town centres and high streets and the regeneration of empty spaces to provide flexible working space can form key aspects of regeneration, and then bring forward further legislation to enable that.

Amendments 493, 494 and 495, respectively on market towns, coastal communities and new towns, ask Ministers to act quickly, within one year of the Bill being enacted, to gather information and best practice and to publish strategies for their regeneration. The issues faced by these differing communities are well documented. For example, because the infrastructure of first-generation new towns was built within a relatively short timescale, it is all deteriorating at the same time rather than incrementally, as would be the case for a town that has developed in a more iterative way. Our coastal communities have suffered a loss of their key industries, in some cases exacerbated by Brexit. As their infrastructure deteriorates, they find themselves in a spiral of decline. We believe there is a role for government in supporting regeneration for these left-behind communities.

Amendment 496, tabled by my noble friend Lady Hayman, reflects the concerns expressed about air quality in many of the previous discussions in Committee. In view of the well-documented health implications of poor air quality, surely it is time we had a national ambition in this respect. We could then begin to implement the planning changes that may be needed to achieve the targets.

I referred earlier to the aspiration we must have to ensure that the economy is geared to decarbonising our economy, and, as we do so, to create the jobs and skills needed for these new energies and to generate the sustainable energy we need for this country’s future. Amendment 497, tabled by my noble friend Lady Hayman, requires the Government to produce a green prosperity plan in order to be clear about how a new green economy can contribute to levelling up and regeneration.

Amendment 501 again reflects many previous discussions in Committee about the importance of the link between nature and levelling up. We are asking the Government to assess the extent to which they will improve access to nature for deprived communities, give duties to local authorities in respect of the recovery of nature and require them to set nature restoration targets. The Institute for Government has been critical of the process of awarding levelling up funds, saying:

“Those areas winning bids will no doubt welcome the money, and the projects funded will improve some local areas. But as a UK-wide policy the Levelling Up Fund lacks the scale or focus to move the dial on the substantial and persistent gaps in regional economic performance that the government has pledged to address through its levelling up agenda. Nor is the model of awarding money to local projects based on central government competitions an effective one”.

The local government community has also been very concerned about the operation and cost of the levelling up fund and its effectiveness in driving the aims of the White Paper. Amendment 502 in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman would require the Government to carry out a review of this fund and what it has achieved so far in terms of levelling up. Our Amendment 504GE would require an equalities analysis of the spending that has been undertaken in relation to the levelling up fund so far, to determine how equalities analysis and evidence has informed spending decisions.

We have seen some welcome relocation of government departments around the regions and nations of the UK, but we question whether this is going fast enough or far enough. The lessons learned regarding flexible and virtual working from the Covid pandemic surely mean that now is the time for a radical redistribution of civil service jobs, still largely concentrated in central London, to different locations. Our Amendment 503 asks for a thoroughgoing review to be conducted by Ministers to maximise the impact of civil service jobs in areas where this would contribute to levelling up.

High quality, reliable and affordable child care is a key factor in ensuring that parents can take their full role in the economy and in supporting their family. Our Amendment 504A probes whether removing the clauses in the Childcare Act 2006 that preclude councils from running their own childcare provision would help to make sure that they can contribute to providing adequate childcare in their area.

We are concerned about reports that the Treasury has withdrawn co-operation on capital projects with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and that this will result in potentially catastrophic consequences for the implementation of the levelling up provisions in the Bill. Our Amendment 504GD probes whether this matter is under active management by the Government and whether the Secretary of State has powers to instigate capital projects that will be essential for levelling up.

We believe a real boost could be provided to town centre regeneration by the introduction of town centre investment zones, so my noble friend Lady Hayman is pleased to be a signatory to Amendment 504GG in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Ravensdale and Lord Mawson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Verma. The conditions set out in subsection (3) of this amendment are the proven elements of a successful regeneration and we believe they should be a precondition for the designation of a TCIZ: a clear long-term vision for the investment zone; a strategy for bringing together local initiatives and council services; existing or historic town centre features within the designated area; a clear collaboration between local residents and businesses to undertake planning for the TCIZ; and the presence of a master plan, business neighbourhood plan or town centre area action plan. For those areas achieving designation as a TCIZ, there should be powers to discount business rates in the area designated. This amendment also includes an important clause to require the Secretary of State to ensure that local authorities will not suffer any net financial loss as a result of such regulations.

Amendment 504GJH in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, requires government to set up a register of schools and hospitals in serious disrepair. We have already seen terrible examples, such as an A&E department held up by steel support bars as medical staff have to carry out their life-saving work weaving in and out between them. The promises, unfulfilled so far, of 40 new hospitals must ring very hollow to the staff working in those conditions. Too many of our schools operate using temporary buildings that are inefficient and expensive in energy terms, and far from ideal in the learning environment they offer. Thinking back to the days of the innovative and forward-thinking Building Schools for the Future programme, one of its drivers was to ensure that the buildings in which young people learned also helped to improve their self-esteem and aspirations for the future.

I am sorry to have taken some time over that, but it is important that the regeneration aspects of the Bill take equal prominence with all its other aspects.

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat 10:30, 22 May 2023

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, is absolutely right about the importance of the amendments on regeneration in this group. I want to bring together two of them that I think are very important. The noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, refers in Amendment 504GG to town centre investment zones. That is a highly original and very important suggestion, so I hope the Minister gives it government support.

The other is Amendment 503 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, which is about Civil Service redistribution. It calls for a review into whether redistributing Civil Service jobs to different locations throughout the UK will support implementation of the Bill. That seems an important outcome that the Government should assess.

I suggest that, when Civil Service jobs are redistributed, they should be redistributed to town centres and locations close to high streets. We had a long debate earlier about the importance of investing in high streets, and here is a classic example of how the Government can use public money to bring jobs closer to where those employees will then shop. The Government have an active travel plan at the centre of their transport thinking. If they were to apply that rule to the relocation of Civil Service jobs, they would not relocate any Civil Service jobs to business parks out of the centres of our towns and cities. In other words, if there are proposals from those undertaking town centre investment zones and those in Whitehall who are redistributing jobs out of London to elsewhere in the UK, ensuring that they help generate jobs in high streets and town centres seems a very helpful way of proceeding.

This group contains a number of suggestions for regeneration. I just hope that the Government see the opportunity we have here and ensure that, when they redistribute Civil Service jobs, they do so in existing town centres and high streets.

Photo of Lord Mawson Lord Mawson Crossbench

My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Ravensdale’s Amendment 504GG, which is practical and puts some real drive into our town centres.

I want to quote a colleague of mine from the north-west of England about her town centre, the fragmentation that she feels is going on and the opportunity being missed. She said:

“When I look at the 7” connecting levelling-up schemes,

“what I feel is missing is the coherent and comprehensive consideration of the Old Town as a ‘place’. One ‘place’. A place where people live and have their businesses, not just somewhere people stop by to solely pop into the new health and education hub for an X-ray, or the new Buddhist temple for meditation or the new youth and arts provision or the upgraded theatre to watch a play. What I fear may happen is some lovely new buildings going up in amongst some really run down streets, which will surely only be made to look even worse. I get that the money available isn’t an endless pot. I get that a number of the properties have private landlords, but what I didn’t get is the approach and ambition of aiming to elevate the place as a whole. Many of the shops are vacant and the Council must be taking empty business rates from the landlords. I wonder if there is a strategy to bring those landlords into the debate about” reconnecting the town,

“so that the 7 schemes aren’t just 7 pieces of a bigger jigsaw where” the real opportunity

“has been lost!”

As I say, this amendment puts real drive and economic practicality into our town centres. I work a lot across the north of England and see a lot of fragmentation. Individual little schemes will not make a difference. There need to be real practical drivers, and what my noble friend Lord Ravensdale is suggesting is possibly one of them.

Photo of Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Labour

My Lords, I speak in support of Amendment 491 in the name of my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage. Currently, most government funding for affordable housing focuses on net additionality of new homes. This is much needed but it can lead to a loss of development potential and a lack of investment in the physical quality of existing communities. Without housing-specific regeneration funding streams, regeneration is virtually impossible to fund in lower-value areas, where there is little scope for cross subsidy from market scaling.

Last week, Homes England published its strategic plan, emphasising a renewed focus on regeneration. It was welcome to see this plan recognise the key role that housing associations should play in place-making, as well as the importance of sustainability in new communities. However, there is a lack of clarity about whether this would be accompanied by new regeneration funding or a flexibility around the use of AHP funds to deliver regeneration. This amendment, which also seeks clarity over the Government’s regeneration proposals, would be a step in the right direction. At present, there is a lack of strategic direction in the Government’s plans to deliver housing-led regeneration, yet regeneration is crucial if the Government are serious about delivering their economic and skills agenda while also helping to deliver quality and sustainable affordable homes across the country.

Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Communities and Local Government)

I hope noble Lords will bear with me because there was some confusion over the position of this group in the list. Some of us had an earlier list, where it appeared much later.

I have tabled Amendment 504GJH, about the state of schools and hospitals. At the heart of levelling up is the need to provide good-quality education to young people across the country and that means good-quality buildings in which children can go to school. Where schools are in disrepair and cannot be used appropriately, children are at a disadvantage, particularly, say, in secondary education with science blocks that are out of date so that children will not be able to do modern science experiments.

The quality of school buildings in this country is very important and a department report from December 2022 highlighted the critical level of disrepair in many of our school buildings across the country. This prompted me to lay this amendment to this part of the Bill. The annual report said that officials have raised the risk level of school buildings collapsing to “very likely” after an increase in serious structural issues being reported, especially in blocks built in the post-war years, 1945 to 1970.

The type of structure used has led to the quite rapid deterioration of those buildings. I said earlier that I was a school governor for a number of years. The school had a science block built in the early 1970s that was condemned for these very reasons, so I know how accurate this is.

If we are talking about levelling up and regeneration, at its heart should be public services, school buildings and the quality of the education delivered within them. It is school buildings that I am pointing to today. The report said that the risk level for school buildings had been escalated, as I said, from “critical” to “very likely”.

The difficulty is that, because so many school buildings were built in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s with this sort of metal structure, there is a huge call on government funding. It is called a light frame system, I think; it is a steel structure anyway. Every one of us will have buildings like that where we live. I want this Bill to focus on doing something about school buildings and hospitals that we know about. The Government have committed to 40 new hospitals—five more have just been added—because they are falling down. That is not right. We are talking about regeneration and levelling up. Having school buildings and hospitals collapsing shows the level of investment that will be needed if we are genuinely going to try to level up across this country.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

My Lords, Amendment 476, proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, looks to give a minimum height for letterboxes. It is important to ensure that doors in homes include letterboxes at a height that does not cause injury, risk or inconvenience. We have researched the safety and accessibility of letterbox heights to establish the evidence with which to amend existing statutory guidance applicable in England. The Government are committed to reviewing their building regulations statutory guidance and any references to third-party guidance on the position of letterboxes. We intend to include the recommended height for letterboxes in statutory guidance.

I turn to Amendment 487 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage. Clause 124 and Schedule 11 to the Bill introduce the infrastructure levy in England. The new infrastructure levy will aim to capture land value uplift at a higher level than the current system of developer contributions, meaning that there will be a greater contribution from developers towards the type of infrastructure to which the noble Baroness referred. Under new Section 204Q in Schedule 11, local authorities will be required to produce infrastructure delivery strategies. These strategies will set out how they intend to spend their levy proceeds. In preparing these strategies, local authorities will be expected to engage with the relevant infrastructure providers to understand what infrastructure will be needed to support new development in their areas. In this way, local authorities will be able to take a more strategic view of the infrastructure that will be required to support development in their areas.

On Amendments 489, 490, 491, 493, 494 and 495, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Taylor of Stevenage and Lady Hayman of Ullock, the Government agree that regeneration is important in our new towns, coastal towns and market towns and recognise the contribution that markets can make to the vibrancy and diversity of our high streets, which is essential to levelling up the country. In this legislation, we are committed to going further in supporting places to tackle blight and to revive our high streets within these areas. The legislation builds on a far-reaching existing support package for high streets and town centres, including £3.6 billion investment in the towns fund, £4.8 billion investment in the levelling-up fund and £2.6 billion in the shared prosperity fund, along with support from the high streets task force.

On Amendment 496 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, this Government have recently set ambitious new targets for air quality through the Environment Act 2021. These will drive action to reduce PM2.5 where concentrations are highest—often within our busiest towns and cities—reducing disparities as well as reducing average exposure across the country. The Environment Act 2021 established a framework for setting these and any future environmental targets. There is already a comprehensive legal framework governing air pollution, which works in a coherent and complementary way with established national emissions ceilings and concentration targets for a wide range of air pollutants from a variety of sources.

On Amendment 497, the UK has a plan for meeting net zero and the transition will provide huge opportunities for jobs, investment, innovation and exports. The UK is leading the world on tackling climate change and developing green jobs. Between 1990 and 2021, we have cut emissions by 48% while growing our economy by 65%. In 2020, there were over 400,000 green jobs in low-carbon businesses and their supply chains across the country. The Government are committed to delivering a clean, secure and independent energy system for the long term, demonstrated by the British energy security strategy. The Government have published their formal response to Chris Skidmore MP’s independent net-zero review. Through the Budget and the net-zero growth plan, the Government have acted decisively to the historic opportunity that the review set out. Our plans for net zero go hand in hand with the levelling-up agenda. The Government’s major economic growth programmes, such as the levelling-up fund and the shared prosperity fund, have guidance that indicates that proposed projects should be aligned to and support net-zero goals.

On Amendment 501, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, the Government are already implementing measures that will increase public access to nature, many of which are targeted towards disadvantaged communities. All public authorities already have a legal duty to consider what action they can take to conserve and enhance biodiversity and to take that action. Additionally, local authorities and local planning authorities must publish biodiversity reports every five years, outlining the action that they have taken. Defra has published guidance to help authorities to comply with the duty. In the environmental improvement plan published by Defra in January, there is a commitment to work across government to ensure that everyone, including those in deprived areas, lives within a 15-minute walk of a green or blue space.

On Amendment 503, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, the Government’s Places for Growth programme is relocating 22,000 roles from London to locations across the UK by 2030. It will also ensure that 50% of UK-based senior civil servants will be based outside London by 2030. Places for Growth is contributing towards the Government’s levelling-up agenda by providing an economic boost in cities and towns across the UK through the relocation of civil and public service roles. It will bring a range of benefits in the context of levelling up as a greater number of roles are relocated over time. These benefits are being considered as part of the delivery of the programme. A full impact assessment will be carried out when the greater concentration of roles has been relocated, towards the end of the programme.

Amendment 504A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, seeks to make it easier for local authorities to provide childcare directly. Where local authorities identify a childcare need that cannot be met by other means, or that they deem more appropriate to provide themselves, they are already able to establish their own provision under the powers contained in the Childcare Act.

On Amendment 504GD in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is working within a new delegation approach with the Treasury, which involves Treasury sign-off on new capital spend. Reports that DLUHC requires approval from HM Treasury for new capital projects will not impact on the levelling-up agenda. The recent change relates only to new projects, and there is no change to the decision-making framework for existing capital programmes. Moreover, noble Lords will be aware that in the usual course of departmental business the majority of programmes would require HMT approval in any case.

On Amendment 504GE in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, the levelling up fund supports the missions set out in the White Paper through investment in infrastructure that improves everyday life for local residents across the country. The Government have published significant amounts of information relating to the assessment and decision-making process used in the first two rounds of the levelling up fund.

On Amendment 504GG in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, we appreciate the intent behind encouraging partnership working but that can be incentivised more effectively through non-legislative mechanisms; for example, partnership working could be a requirement for high street funding or support, as envisaged in the recently announced high street accelerator pilot programme. The Government already provide generous business rates relief to high street businesses. As a result of small business rates relief, over 700,000 businesses pay no rates at all. Furthermore, in 2023-24 eligible retail, leisure and hospitality businesses will receive 75% off their bills, up to a maximum of £110,000 per business.

Regarding Amendment 504GJ in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, the levelling up White Paper set out the importance of investment in human capital—that is, the knowledge, skills and experience of the workforce—and the need for investment in skills to boost living standards and support the transition to net zero.

We are rolling out local skills improvement plans. They will bring together colleges and other providers, employers, Jobcentre Plus and other local players to identify skills needs and the capacity that the area has to deliver them. We are also building on the success of our flagship apprenticeships programme by putting employers at the heart of the system. By summer 2023 most of the country will have an LSIP development approved by the Secretary of State for Education. The Bill already sets out clear timescales for when Parliament and the public will be able to scrutinise the missions via the statement of missions, as well as progress towards them via the annual report.

Amendment 504GJH, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, raises the important issue of school and hospital safety. The NHS publishes annually the Estates Returns Information Collection, which already provides detailed information on levels of backlog maintenance across the estate—the main metric used to quantify hospital building conditions.

The Department for Education sent qualified surveyors into nearly every school in England to assess their condition. It has shared reports with the schools and published summary findings. The department plans to publish more detailed data at school level as soon as possible. A new data collection is under way to provide updated information. So moving to a three-monthly review process, as the amendment proposes, would represent a significant increase in the reporting burden that currently falls on NHS trusts and the school sector, for little gain.

With these reassurances, I hope the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 10:45, 22 May 2023

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her full reply. I do not intend to go through all the aspects again; I spoke for long enough earlier on, and it is very late.

I thank noble Lords for their support on letterboxes. I think this is the first time while I have been working on the Bill that the Government have accepted a proposal that we have put forward, for which I will be eternally grateful. I am sure that many of our colleagues across the party-political spectrum, not to mention all those lovely people who deliver our post every day, will be delighted with that response from the Government.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, for his thoughtful amendment, which we also put our name to, and his key points about how we should manage the regeneration of our town centres. That should be much more front and centre of the Bill than it is. I hope the Government will think about that, and about how we ensure that we put in place the right environment, and the right steps, to encourage that vital regeneration.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Warwick for mentioning the key role that affordable housing needs to play in relation to regeneration. We have had many debates in Committee on affordable housing and what it can do, but we simply will not have levelling up unless people have decent places to live. The current definition of affordable housing is unlikely to deliver that. Again, I hope that we will make some progress on that as part of the Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, talked about public services being at the heart of levelling up. The buildings in which those public services are delivered are really key. If a child is going into a temporary building for their education, that does nothing for their aspirations or feelings of self-esteem, so that amendment is absolutely key.

I am grateful to the Minister for recognising our amendments on market towns, coastal communities and new towns. Yes, there has been some funding through the levelling up fund but of course those communities have been set in competition with one another for that fund, so some of them get funding and some do not. All those communities need some support.

On the Minister’s comments on the green prosperity plan amendment, I fear that the net-zero nirvana which she talked about is not quite as close as she indicated it might be. In the levelling up fund, there are some conditions around net zero but a lot of that is to do with walking and cycling. The really key issues around skills, training and energy generation have not been reached, so far, in the way that we would want to see levelling up affecting them. There is a way to go with that yet. That said, in view of the late hour, I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 476 withdrawn.