Amendment 191A

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Report (5th Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:19 pm on 4 September 2023.

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Lord Crisp:

Moved by Lord Crisp

191A: After Clause 88, insert the following new Clause—“Secretary of State’s duty to promote healthy homes and neighbourhoods(1) The Secretary of State must promote a comprehensive regulatory framework for planning and the built environment designed to secure—(a) the physical, mental and social health and well-being of the people of England, and(b) healthy homes and neighbourhoods.(2) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for a system of standards that promotes and secures healthy homes on condition that certain requirements prescribed in the regulations are met. (3) Schedule (Healthy homes) makes provision about healthy homes standards.”

Photo of Lord Crisp Lord Crisp Crossbench

My Lords, I will speak to the three amendments about healthy homes in my name in this group: Amendments 191A, 191B and 286. I support other amendments in this group; in particular, Amendment 198, which, like these amendments, links health and housing, and much of what I will say is also very relevant to that amendment.

I am very grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Young of Cookham, Lord Blunkett and Lord Stunell, for adding their names, and more generally to noble Lords across your Lordships’ House who have supported these amendments. I am also very grateful to the TCPA, which has supported me with these amendments; there is also a considerable campaign of support for them outside which it has created, including among builders, developers and insurers, all of whom recognise that action is needed.

I am also very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, with whom we have had two meetings, but sadly without any progress being made. I wait to hear what may be said later.

In describing these amendments, I will also explain why they are very different from the Government’s existing and planned policy. I make a point of this because the Government have consistently stated that these amendments are not necessary as they are already covered by existing or planned policy. However, these differences start with the recognition of the vital link between housing and health and well-being. They are intimately connected issues. Noble Lords will be very well aware of these connections and the problems—for example, of damp, cold, mould, air pollution, safety and more—when poor housing has caused deaths, illnesses and accidents. We need think only of the poor child in Rochdale who died from mould or the child in London who died from air pollution in their homes.

It is also important to remember to mention the mental health issues caused by poor, insecure, overcrowded housing and living in homes and neighbourhoods that are vulnerable to crime. I know that noble Lords debating the amendment of my noble friend Lady Willis will have much more to say about this, and particularly inequalities. It is the poorest people in the poorest neighbourhoods who are worst affected, and that is a very fitting topic for a levelling-up Bill.

Noble Lords will also be aware of the great strides earlier Governments made in understanding the relationship between health and housing and tackling them together, from Victorian times onwards—slum clearances over the ages, but also the great campaign of “Homes for Heroes” after the First World War. People recognised those important links, yet today, there is virtually nothing about health in planning and, if there is, it is about healthcare. The links between health, well-being and planning are simply not addressed. That is why Amendment 191A states:

“The Secretary of State must promote a comprehensive regulatory framework for planning and the built environment designed to secure … the physical, mental and social health and well-being of the people of England, and ... healthy homes and neighbourhoods”.

This does three very important things. It places health and well-being firmly at the heart of planning for the built environment; stresses the links between an individual’s health and the neighbourhood in which they live; and provides a clear aim for the whole planning and regulatory system. All three are important.

I recognise that this is a substantial strategic change in the approach to planning and regulation which, if adopted, will have a positive impact on the quality of housing and neighbourhoods, should reduce the likelihood of new slums being created and truly help to level up. It will also have a positive financial benefit by reducing the massive cost of poor housing to, for example, the NHS. I will not labour this point, but it is in the many billions of pounds. The respected Building Research Establishment estimates that it is £135 billion over 30 years. Of course, there is all the human cost of poor housing and huge cost to other sectors of the economy. In summary, there is a real choice here between carrying on as before and making a determined effort to create good housing for the citizens of this country that is fit for the future.

I turn for a moment to standards and quality. I imagine that all noble Lords are well aware of the poor standard of some recent developments, mainly but not exclusively those created through permitted development rights. We can see that existing arrangements have not stopped that, and new policies will lack the teeth to make it happen. Amendment 191A refers to the Secretary of State being responsible for creating

“a system of standards that promotes and”, importantly, “secures healthy homes”. The system of standards covers 11 areas, which are linked concerns about individuals and the community. They bring health and environment and health and security issues together. Importantly, in Amendment 191B, it is the Secretary of State who is held to account by Parliament for delivery, by the mechanisms in the amendments.

We are not writing the policy; we are making sure it is delivered everywhere. We set out those principles to be followed which need to be enshrined in law; we have deliberately left the Secretary of State with space to define the standards, which will obviously change over time, and the methods they use to deliver them. We are not trying to rewrite government policy here; we are trying to enact legislation.

Since Committee, the Government have proposed the extension of permitted development rights to embrace sites in countryside areas, farms, national parks and hotels. This makes these amendments even more necessary. We need the health and well-being focus, the coherence and the standards as a counterbalance: a free-for-all will not help the public or the economy. As the APPG on homelessness said even before that extension was proposed, PDR can provide extra needed housing, but it needs to be done well, which is why that cross-party group supports these amendments.

Let me touch on costs. I imagine that some noble Lords will be thinking, “Doesn’t this cost a great deal of money?” I am not talking about the difference between lower-cost and higher-cost houses, I am talking about the difference between lower-cost housing and housing that is simply not fit for purpose. The analogy I use is the MOT. The MOT dictates whether or not a car is fit to be on our roads. If we have such a test for our cars, we also need to ensure that our housing is fit to be on our streets.

I have so far talked about the extraordinary opportunity cost of not addressing these issues. If we do not address them, we are condemning a lot of people to poor housing. But let us look at it from the other side for a moment: from the point of view of opportunity, and homes for heroes, if you like. Who have these homes been built for? There is opportunity here if people have a secure home, a secure base from which to operate, space for children to do their homework, where they are not spending all their time worrying about repairs and everything else. This is about life chances. It is not just about housing affecting health and well-being; it affects people’s life chances in the long term.

These are powerful arguments, and I wait to hear how the Government are going to respond. However, I should say at this point that I expect to take this to a vote, because I want His Majesty’s Government to think again and engage with the arguments about health, well-being and standards. They have not done so thus far, but it is very important that they do. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 198 in my name and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Willis of Summertown, the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London.

The noble Baroness, Lady Willis, very much regrets that she is unable to be present, for unavoidable reasons, and has therefore asked me to speak to her amendment. In essence, it would ensure that the planning system is contributing to the levelling-up agenda by designing the places people need to thrive and contributing to a general health and well-being objective. Let me say here that I entirely endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, with his great experience, said. This amendment is entirely consistent with and complementary to his, and I am glad that he will press his to a Division.

I should say that my interest in this came from the particular issue of health inequality, but it is active travel on which I will focus. Subsection (4) of Amendment 198, to which local planning authorities or, as the case may be, the Secretary of State would have to have regard, emphasises some of the points the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, is making:

“ensuring that key destinations such as essential shops, schools, parks and open spaces, health facilities and public transport services are in safe and convenient proximity on foot to homes … facilitating access to these key destinations and creating opportunities for everyone to be physically active by improving existing, and creating new, walking and cycling routes and networks … increasing access to high-quality green infrastructure … ensuring a supply of housing which is affordable … and meets” health, accessibility and well-being needs. That is entirely consistent with what both the Government and the Opposition would think of when they talk of health and well-being.

The scale of health inequalities in this country is striking. I have looked at recent research from the Health Foundation showing that people living in the most deprived parts of this country are diagnosed with serious illness earlier than their peers and die sooner than their peers in more affluent areas. A 60 year-old woman in the poorest areas of England has a level of diagnosed illness equivalent to that of a 76 year-old woman in the wealthiest areas, while a 60 year-old man in the poorest areas of England will, on average, have a level of diagnosed illness equivalent to that of a 70 year-old man in the wealthiest areas. As the Health Foundation has commented:

“The NHS wasn’t set up to carry the burden of policy failings in other parts of society. A healthy … society must have all the right building blocks in place, including good quality jobs, housing and education. Without these, people face shorter lives, in poorer health”.

The evidence now is clear. We can see the impact on the economy. We are all concerned about the rise in the number of older workers who, because of issues due to ill health, are not in the labour market when they should be.

I said earlier that my particular interest in this amendment relates to encouraging active travel. I was pleased to see published this morning a government strategy, Get Active: A Strategy for the Future of Sport and Physical Activity, which is designed to encourage more activity. Having read the outline of it very quickly, however, I can say that the problem is that it does not really link to this legislation and the planning system. This is the general issue that many of us feel concerned about when it comes to trying to improve health and well-being. In Committee, the Minister’s response on this issue focused on Gear Change, which set out investment in active travel back in 2020. He argued that

“the National Planning Policy Framework already contains very clear policy on sustainable development. It includes good design; how to plan for sustainable modes of transport, including walking and cycling; an integrated approach to the location of housing; economic uses; and the requirement for community services and facilities”.—[Official Report, 27/3/23; col. 77.]

Who could argue with that? It is very difficult to argue with that at all.

As I see it—predecessor documents have often contained some of the same wording—the problem is that the framework has no beef. It has had little impact on the planning system and, therefore, on the local environment. Research that I have seen suggested that only 16% of local planning authorities have ever reported having rejected a site largely due to a car-dependent location and that less than half have discounted any site where this was a contributing factor.

The charity Sustrans, to which I pay great tribute, has surveyed local authority planners on why this is. It is clear that it is largely due to the lack of robust wording in guidance and the lack of support of a framework, such as a statutory duty to provide support in the case of planning appeals. Some 64% of local authorities surveyed found that the lack of this support was a barrier to giving weight to walkable proximity in their site allocation process, with many also saying that they considered that planning inspectors would not support walkability being used in this process.

This has led to a situation where, according to the RTPI, the average major new development is more than half an hour’s walk from basics such as primary schools and GPs, despite the national design guidance on walkability suggesting that facilities should be within 800 metres. Some noble Lords may have seen the recent BBC report on Northstowe, the biggest development since Milton Keynes in the 1960s. Six years after the first people moved in, it does not have a single shop, café or GP surgery. Surely we must beef up the planning system to ensure that people can, under their own steam, get to facilities that are absolutely essential as part of, more generally, a healthy environment and well-being.

The advantage of the amendment drafted by the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, to whom I pay great tribute, is that it would bring together many of these desirable aims and give local planning authorities the licensing tools that they need to create healthier places. It would certainly fill a gap in this Bill where we see that the Government have set out lofty ambitions on health inequalities without any concrete measures. I hope that, when we come to make a decision on this amendment, I can call on the House to support it.

Photo of The Bishop of Southwark The Bishop of Southwark Bishop 7:30, 4 September 2023

My Lords, I also rise to speak to Amendment 198 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Willis of Summertown, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, whom it is an honour to follow this evening, the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, who sends her apologies that she cannot be here to take part in this debate.

The urgent need to address declining health in the United Kingdom, as well as the widening health inequalities associated with this, cannot be overstated. We have heard many times about the staggering difference in healthy life expectancy, which was already up to 19 years before the pandemic. We must not become numb to such statistics or the reality that underlies them. Amendment 198 is about using the opportunity that this Bill provides to reform the planning system and thereby enable practical action by local authorities to tackle these disparities.

The social determinants of health are familiar and better understood than they have ever been. We know that where we live and the environment that we find ourselves in can have a significant impact on our health and, in extreme cases, fatal consequences. If we are serious about tackling health inequalities, our planning system is a key and necessary lever for better outcomes. By designing spaces better and putting in the right features that are proven to improve health and well-being, we can make huge improvements to the state of health. As we have heard, local planners can improve this in a number of ways, including site allocation, working with developers to improve applications and setting a vision for what facilities are in an area. This amendment would give planners a framework to deliver in each and every neighbourhood infrastructure that boosts everyone’s health and well-being.

When a similar amendment was debated in Committee, the Minister, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said that the National Planning Policy Framework

“contains policies on how to achieve healthy, inclusive and safe places”.—[Official Report, 27/3/23; col. 77.]

However, the fact that these policies already exist makes a strong case for this amendment, for the simple reason that little has changed. We are still building housing where the basics are not right, such as estates where there are not even any pavements. The National Planning Policy Framework is clearly not a strong enough tool for what we want to achieve. If we are to level up our health, we need to level up our planning system; that means being clear about our priorities within it right across the country.

In a report published by Sustrans, the custodians of the National Cycle Network in 2022, 64% of planners said that they needed more robust regulation or guidance to prioritise health and well-being. A statutory duty to reduce health inequalities in the planning system will give planners the levers that they need to consider health outcomes in a bespoke way that suits local areas, without these being forgotten amid the other requirements that must necessarily be followed.

I also support the “healthy homes” amendments—Amendments 191A, 191B and 286—in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, who has already spoken. They seek to use the role that planning can play in reducing adverse health outcomes by preventing the creation of inadequate housing, which is an all-too-present reality in the current pressure to build more housing.

In conclusion, I hope that we will consider giving planners these tools today, as while we wait the gap, not only in life expectancy but in healthy living, is increasing. To deny these amendments is to store up dangerous and expensive problems for the future. The answer to increased housebuilding lies elsewhere.

Photo of Lord Young of Cookham Lord Young of Cookham Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I have added my name to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, and commend his tenacity in pursuing this issue through his Private Members’ Bill and all the stages of this legislation. I shall add a short footnote to his speech.

After the debate in Committee and the very helpful meeting that we had with Ministers, on 25 May the Minister wrote a comprehensive nine-page reply taking the objectives of the amendments one by one and outlining how, in the Government’s view, existing provisions reflected them. We can discuss whether there is total alignment between current provisions and what is in the amendments, but the letter asserting this and existing statements from the Minister in our debates indicate that there is not a lot of distance between what the Government say that they want and what is proposed, which would help to bridge the gap that the right reverend Prelate has just referred to.

The letter dated 25 May said: “Following on from our meeting, I thought that it would be helpful to set out where the principles of healthy homes are already being considered and addressed through existing laws, systems, policy and guidance”. I want to make two points, picking up the key objections to the amendment that were made by my noble friend Lord Howe in his reply to the debate on 27 March. He said, referring to the noble Lord, Lord Crisp:

“Where we had to part company with him—and, I am afraid, must continue to do so—was on the extent to which new legislation should duplicate legal provisions already in place, and, to the extent that it does not duplicate it, how much more prescriptive the law should be about the way in which new housing is planned for and designed”.—[Official Report, 27/3/23; col. 76.]

On the first objection, I would prefer “consolidate” to “duplicate” to describe the impact of the amendments. Annex A to the letter dated 25 May explains that the relevant policies in the amendments are set out in no less than 11 groups under the heading “Healthy Homes Principles”. These groups in turn referred to 28 different chapters or clauses in building regulations, design codes, the NPPF, planning legislation and orders. The amendment brings all those provisions together under one overarching umbrella and provides what is currently missing: namely, a clear statement of government policy on healthy homes all in one place, breaking down the silos between all the government departments involved—the Department of Health and Social Care, the Home Office, the Department for Transport, the Department of Energy and Climate Change, Defra and DLUHC. The 28 different references would then have a coherence which is lacking at the moment and which would be embodied in the statement that the Secretary of State has to make, underlining the commitment to healthy homes.

The second objection was that the amendment was prescriptive. However, the wording of paragraph 4 in the new schedule proposed in Amendment 191B gets round that objection in that it uses “should” instead of “must” throughout. The only compulsion is in paragraph 1, which obliges the Secretary of State to prepare a statement in accordance with the proposed new schedule. The groundwork for this has already been laid by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp.

I hope that my noble friend will reflect on these points and that his customary emollience will go one step further into acquiescence.

Photo of Lord Ravensdale Lord Ravensdale Crossbench

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 280. I thank my supporters, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Lansley. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, for her engagement with me on this issue over recent months and for her letter outlining the position of the Government.

I will focus on the changes to the amendment since we were in Committee, where we highlighted the magnitude of the issue of embodied carbon, with 50 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents a year—more than aviation and shipping combined, so it is a significant amount of emissions. When we consider the effort and investment that is going into some of these other areas, it points towards the need to do a lot more on embodied carbon.

We also set out that industry is ready. On an infrastructure-related bid that I am currently working on for the private sector, we are looking to set targets for embodied carbon and assess it in the design phase, something that we now do almost as a matter of course. However, regulation needs to catch up, to ensure that this is applied consistently and to seize the wider sustainability and economic benefits of this change applying across the whole of industry. Our amendment focuses purely on the initial reporting stage, whereby industry will be mandated to report embodied carbon for all new construction projects above a certain size; the subsequent stage, using data gathered in the initial stage, would be to set out actual regulated limits for embodied carbon in buildings.

In the short term, we need a few things. The first is a timeline for a consultation on embodied carbon reporting and regulation. I welcome the Government’s commitments to consulting in 2023. The amendment now includes a commitment on consultation timescales. Secondly, and most importantly, we need that signal of policy intent that is required from the Government: a date when that reporting phase will start so that industry can start preparations early and put the necessary processes in place. There is no reason why we cannot get on with this now. The Minister may say that this will all perhaps fall out of the consultation, but there is no reason why the Government cannot commit to an aspiration to a date now and invite comments on that within the consultation. That would be of enormous significance in helping to get things moving on this issue. This date could perhaps align with the future homes standards, due to the obvious crossover here. We have added this to the amendments. Thirdly, we need a timescale for the implementation of regulations following the reporting phases needed, again for a clear road map to be in place so that industry can plan for implementation.

Our amendment on Report now sets out a clear road map for implementation of embodied carbon reporting and regulation. The Government should seize the opportunity to progress with this now and realise the many benefits. It would mean alignment with many other countries which are already implementing regulations—France, Sweden, Denmark and others. There are also the efficiency benefits in aligning standards and assessment methodologies across industry. There are economic benefits too—for example, the development of new low-carbon building materials and reuse of buildings.

Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Conservative 7:45, 4 September 2023

My Lords, it has been my privilege to have been involved in public sector housing for 50 years. I welcome the broad thrust of the thought of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, that every home should be a healthy home.

We must be a little practical. I congratulate my noble friends on the Front Bench on the degree to which they have adjusted, even in the time of this Government. However, looking at some of the specifics, I live in Bedfordshire, and there are whole hosts of small developments there. They are historical and are basically just hamlets. There is no way that I would want to stop any new developments of hamlets of that nature. The residents cannot possibly walk to the shops in 10 or 20 minutes. It would probably take them half an hour. That is the practicality of life.

The second point—and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, feels strongly about this, and I share some of his concerns—relates to retail conversions in a fast-changing retail environment. In our county towns and other leading towns, we are now seeing a huge number of empty properties, a fair number of which are potentially being developed for living in. In no way can some of these shops meet all the requirements that are listed here. However, it is equally true that for some of the recent ones, which I have looked at locally, the PDR requirements have not been met properly. The noble Lord would be doing a major help to places such as Bedford, where we see an empty high street and we know that people want to convert some of those properties into flats and that there is a need for flats.

Finally, I would like to tell my noble friend and the House that there are 4.2 million people looking for affordable housing. I had the privilege of representing a new town; it worked because there was a major thrust of development. The principle of why it worked was that it was low-level, high-density building. I still think that that is the way forward. It does not mean that it cannot be healthy; it can and it must be healthy, and a great many of our new towns are low level and high density. I sympathise with my noble friend on the Front Bench. We have to move forward, but in a practical manner.

Photo of Baroness Hayman Baroness Hayman Crossbench

My Lords, I think I can beat the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, on his 50 years’ involvement with housing, because when I left university aged 20—which was more than 50 years ago—my first job was with Shelter, a newly formed organisation. I have not been involved in housing a great deal since, but that experience left me with an abiding conviction of the harm that is done to children and families, and to the prospects for individuals, by living in homes that are not fit for human habitation, that are not to the standards that we need, that are not secure and that deprive them of opportunities. So I very much welcome the amendments in this group that we have heard proposed very eloquently.

My two amendments are not about those high-level aspirations; they go back to the theme of delivery and how we actually make this happen. One deals with the supply side and the other with the demand side.

My Amendment 282H deals with rooftop solar power and the problem of getting affordable and clean energy to people. I am extremely grateful for the support of the noble Baronesses, Lady Sheehan and Lady Blackstone, and of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who had brought forward his own amendment on this subject in Committee.

This amendment requires the Secretary of State to make building regulations to ensure that, in England, new homes and public and commercial buildings, as well as existing public and commercial buildings, are fitted with solar panels. It recognises that of course flexibility is needed: there will be circumstances in which design optimisation and practical constraints mean that it would not be possible or useful to put solar panels on every building. However, the default position should be installation, because that is how we give householders the opportunity to minimise the energy consumption of their homes and to live in warm homes at reduced cost.

The Government recognise this. They know that solar power is one of the cleanest, cheapest forms of energy, and they have therefore set a national target for 70 gigawatts from solar by 2035. This is not only to reduce emissions but to reduce our reliance on imported fossil fuels; this is not simply a net-zero issue but an energy security issue. It will also reduce the cost of energy bills for consumers, which, in the current situation with spikes in energy prices, means energy bills for the Government or taxpayers as well, because we have to subsidise those bills. In spite of these ambitions, the CCC’s recent assessment was that the Government’s solar targets are “significantly off track”. This is the same issue we were talking about earlier—that of delivery, rather than aspiration.

A recent report by the CPRE found that installing solar panels on new buildings, warehouse rooftops and other land such as car parks could provide at least 40 to 50 gigawatts of low-carbon electricity, contributing more than half of the national solar targets. Proposals in this amendment have widespread support—for example, from the Skidmore review, the Environmental Audit Committee and industry stakeholders such as Solar Energy UK. The provision would place no burden on households; indeed, it does the opposite, because it reduces financial outgoings. We all know that the cost of retrofitting—which we are doing constantly because we did not have the right standards in the first place—is more expensive. I hope that the Minister will think carefully about his response to the amendment.

My other amendment, Amendment 282L, deals with energy efficiency. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, who is very sorry that he could not be here, and to the noble Lords, Lord Stunell and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, for their support.

I am not going to weary the House by repeating at length the arguments on energy efficiency that I and many others have made on the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill, the Energy Bill and this Bill. We have spoken at length on why it is crucial, can achieve multiple policy aims and will provide opportunities to contribute to levelling up, such as cheaper heating, rapid emission cuts, addressing the health implications of poor quality and damp homes, job creation in sustainable areas, high-quality skills and creating homegrown industries that can be rolled out across the country, because housing and buildings are everywhere. I will not repeat and lay down a list of all the reports, parliamentary and external, that have endorsed the need for both a coherent strategy and urgent action on energy efficiency. Yet the CCC recently concluded that the Government continue

“to avoid big, impactful decisions and action” in relation to emissions from buildings.

This amendment is practical and unprescriptive. It merely requires the Government to consider all the options available and to produce a comprehensive plan, so that industry and the public have certainty, clear direction and clear milestones. The sector is poised to take action to scale up what could be a hugely productive market, but time and again in this area we have seen schemes start with a blaze of glory and then splutter into nothing. They have reduced confidence—confidence in the sector and in home owners, householders and tenants to support this.

This is an important time for the House to make clear its view on energy efficiency. We passed an amendment on energy efficiency on the Energy Bill. Tomorrow, along the corridor, they will be discussing that amendment. It will come back to us on ping-pong. It is important that we continue to talk about this. It is also important because we have a new Secretary of State: she will have an enormous in-tray but also opportunities. There is an opportunity for what we have been talking about all evening—strategic and comprehensive leadership. This amendment gives her that opportunity, and I hope it will be supported.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Independent Labour

My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 282H, from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on rooftop solar. Before speaking to that, I briefly record my very strong support for both Amendments 191A and 198, which would impose a duty to make regulations to promote healthy homes and neighbourhoods, and to reduce health inequalities, which are at a horrifyingly high level. I say this with some experience of both education and children’s health. I believe that it is especially important that children and young people have access to good, open, public space which enables them to benefit from exercise outside, within easy reach of their homes. It should be somewhere they can go without having to be taken on a bus or in a car a long way from where they live.

I turn to the rooftop solar amendment, which in no way suggests that it is an alternative to other important renewables, in particular onshore wind—which, rumour has it, I am delighted to say, the Government are at last coming round to accept will be needed on a much greater scale than before. Solar roof panels are also not an alternative to heat pumps. They complement them, and in so doing make the cost of heat pumps more affordable and avoid driving up consumers’ costs unnecessarily. Solar Energy UK estimates that, in a typical heat pump heated home, installing solar panels leads to an annual saving of around £1,500 a year.

I am very pleased to say that the Government have already said in Committee that they agree with the spirit of the amendment, so why not go a step further and agree to its adoption? The Government apparently think it is enough that they encourage local authorities and developers to incorporate solar and that the amendment is redundant. I really cannot agree with that, and I am sure that will be true for many other noble Lords. This just will not do. Encouragement is all very well, but a requirement is what is needed—with, of course, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, exemptions where solar is not technically feasible.

The Committee on Climate Change recently reported, to use its words, that solar development is “significantly off track”. If we are going to reach the target of 70 gigawatts by 2035, the Government really do need to get moving. I believe they recognise this, because they have said that they want to go further and faster on solar. If so, I ask the Minister to accept the amendment and, in doing so, match what many other countries are already doing. Apart from the benefit to UK energy consumption, it would lead to supporting around 600,000 new jobs. That is not something to be sneezed at; it would be another very important benefit to this amendment being implemented. I hope to hear a positive response from the Minister to the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman.

Photo of Lord Best Lord Best Crossbench 8:00, 4 September 2023

My Lords, this a very full group of powerful amendments and I find them all very appealing. I particularly support the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, in his brilliant Healthy Homes campaign with the Town and Country Planning Association, but a completely convincing case has been made from all parts of the House for his amendment. I will concentrate on Amendment 280, to which I have put my name in support of the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, on creating a road map for addressing embodied carbon emissions in buildings.

It has been a rather rude awakening for me to discover that, in concentrating on the energy efficiency of buildings once occupied and taking measures to cut their operational carbon emissions when in use, I have been missing the bigger picture: half buildings’ emissions come from the process of producing and maintaining the building—that is, from the embodied carbon generated by the whole construction process. Many of us in the world of housing have focused on improving energy efficiency in new homes and have failed to recognise that we could be doing far more to cut the carbon emissions that result from the construction of those homes.

Construction, which uses more raw materials than any other industry, is responsible for a quarter of all carbon emissions. Half of these come from embodied carbon, particularly in the production of concrete and steel. Half a million tonnes of building materials are used daily in the UK. Moreover, demolition and excavation generate no less than 62% of all UK waste, to say nothing of the consequences for landfill and the nasty impact of air pollution.

I am very grateful to Shaun Spiers and colleagues at the Green Alliance for their work on “circular construction”: reducing the type and quality of raw materials, reusing, recycling and regenerating, rather than demolishing and building anew. Their work shows that there are plenty of ways in which this huge driver of carbon emissions can be addressed without adding to cost. An example is British Land’s new headquarters in London, which went for retrofitting in place of new build and took less time, while cutting costs by 15% to 18.5%.

A new embodied carbon section in the building regulations, referred to as Part Z, would send the construction industry down the right road. The Environment Act 2021 gives the Government the power to take this approach forward. Some neighbouring European countries are already getting there: for example, the Netherlands is committed to reducing raw material consumption by 50% by 2030. But what is needed first in the UK is an agreed set of metrics—an approved methodology—as the basis for calculating the whole-life carbon emissions, both operational and embodied, of construction work. Big players such as Lendlease, Atkins and Laing O’Rourke stand ready to help in devising this. The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, provides the basis for that essential first step, with proper regard to the need for full consultation.

Frankly, I have been pretty ignorant about the significance of embodied carbon in construction. I now realise that concentrating on energy efficiency in the use of buildings once built misses the point. Key players in the industry are ready to adopt new practices to cut embodied carbon emissions. This amendment would enable the Government to progress this change of emphasis, which is surely overdue. I strongly support the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I have an illustration—as ever, from Eastbourne—of what is going on with solar panels. We have in the middle of town about 400 hectares of grazing marshes. There is a proposal to build a solar farm on a chunk of that, right next to 100 hectares of industrial estate. None of the firms have solar panels and nor do their car parks. There is clearly a local demand for solar electricity and the grid connection needed for it, but nothing is happening to provide solar panels on the existing space, which could so easily be used for them.

The Government’s policy is pointing in the right direction, but it is inadequate. It needs reinforcing. They need to give a much harder shove to putting solar panels on existing commercial buildings and commercial space. I very much hope that, if the exact wording of the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, cannot be accepted, the Government will commit to bringing something back at a later stage or finding another way of doing something about it, because where they are at the moment will not do.

Exactly the same applies to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, which I have great sympathy for. Therefore, I do not see the virtue in Amendment 191B, the wording of which seems very strange. I do not think that “should” bears the meaning that my noble friend tried to put on it; it is an imperative in legislation. Statements such as

“all new homes should be secure and built in such a way as to minimise the risk of crime” mean that we would need to have eight-inch thick concrete blocks with tiny portholes for windows, because these are absolute words and not the much more open and discursive words employed in Amendment 198, which I therefore favour.

I also like the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale. We need to look seriously at embodied carbon. If that involves new construction methods, we need to learn from the lesson of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete. It was the miracle of its time, but that wonderful new method of doing things has not worked out. If we are going to introduce new methods and new structures extensively in housing and other buildings, we really must go back to not only testing them to destruction but monitoring how they are working in the environment. We used to do that with new building methods; we need to get back to it now.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, I rise very briefly to offer the strongest possible Green support for all these amendments, which really fit into the intersection of Green policies on public health, climate and poverty eradication. I will make just three brief points.

First, on solar panels on a suitable new homes and buildings, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for pursuing this for so long. If I look on Twitter, the question I am asked most often is, “Why do new homes not have solar panels?” It seems such a no-brainer to the public, and they cannot understand why. Of course, the answer to that goes back to 2013 when David Cameron had gone from “hug a husky” to referring to “green crap”. The plan to bring in this effective regulation was abandoned a decade ago. This means that more than 2 million British households are now paying vastly more for their energy than they need to be paying, while also emitting more carbon than they need to be emitting.

Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and others have been extremely powerful on the parlous state of public health and the relationship that has to housing. It is interesting that if we go back to the start of the NHS in 1948, Aneurin Bevan was Minister for both the NHS and housing. Those two things were seen as intimately interrelated. Somehow or other, we seem to have lost the plot with this. To quote some figures from the Building Research Establishment, it is estimated that poor housing costs the NHS £1.4 billion a year—money that could be saved.

Thirdly and finally, I acknowledge the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Best, about his awakening to the issue of embodied carbon. This is something that has been largely ignored. There has been the shallow approach of “That’s a terrible building. We’ll knock it down and build something better”. I have just come from a conference in Zagreb—an international conference with a lot of European speakers. I was hearing of so many amazing projects that are happening across Europe and looking at how we can build in innovative new ways while using existing materials.

I shall quote just one example of this. If a building needs to be knocked down, how can we reuse those materials, rather than just throwing them away? In Copenhagen, there is something called Resource Rows: housing has been built largely with slabs of bricks cut from existing buildings that had to be demolished. Those slabs are cut out and put into the walls of the new buildings. They have recycled materials. The timber is coming from where they have put a new Metro extension in. The timber frames that went around the concrete pieces for the Metro then go into building housing right beside it. They have greenhouses for growing vegetables on site, made from old windows. This is the kind of innovation that is happening elsewhere because they have the regulations that demand it. We are lacking those regulations; we are lacking this guidance from the Government. Just look at what we are building now.

Photo of Baroness Sheehan Baroness Sheehan Liberal Democrat

I refer noble Lords to my interests as laid out in the register and as a director of Peers for the Planet. In the interests of time, I will address just two amendments in this group, but that is not to detract from my strong support for the remaining amendments.

First, Amendment 282H, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, which has support from across your Lordships’ House and to which I have added my name, simply calls for the Government to require all new domestic, public and commercial buildings to be fitted with solar PV and will include existing public and commercial buildings, subject to appropriate exemptions and criteria. Frankly, I do not understand the Government’s opposition to this very sensible measure. I spent four consecutive years on the planning committee while I was a councillor for Kew ward in the London Borough of Richmond. My experience there taught me absolutely to recognise that progress on this issue will be vastly expedited if the decision is not left to construction companies whose sole concern, at least for the majority, is profit.

The Government’s argument is that it is happening anyway. That fails to demonstrate that they take the need for urgent action on climate change seriously. Anyway, where is the evidence that it is happening already at effective rate? Is the figure for new-build solar PV 10%, 5% or 50%? What is the Government’s policy on this? Can the Minister tell me? Who keeps account of these figures? Surely the Government’s policy must be 100% solar PV on all new buildings and, if not, why not?

The cost of solar has dropped dramatically, exceeding all projections in just one decade, and it is so much cheaper to install it up front than to have to retrofit. Air conditioning will become more necessary with each passing year. Therefore, cheaply available energy when the sun is shining will save countless lives as heatwaves become a regular feature of life in Britain. This amendment is a no-brainer and will have the support of the Lib Dem Benches if in due course a Division is called.

Moving on, Amendment 282NA in my name seeks to make provision for the retrofitting of an existing town to be powered exclusively by renewable energy and heated exclusively by a ground source heat network. It is that heating element that I want to focus on in my remarks.

I want to try to focus attention on the huge problem of decarbonising domestic heating—in fact, heating in all buildings—and, these days, the problem of cooling residential homes in towns and cities. My aim in tabling this amendment is to expand the Government’s interest in pilot projects from only hydrogen as a possible solution for domestic heating to other sources of heating which are much further advanced and, if I may say so, much less likely to go bang. I refer to providing decarbonised domestic heating by ground source heat networks; that is, to use the heat beneath our feet, available 24/7, 365 days a year, regardless of temperature changes.

On 6 July this year, the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, who I am sorry to say is not in his seat, led an excellent debate on geothermal heat and power. For the sake of time, I will limit my remarks and refer noble Lords to my contribution to that debate, particularly with reference to the successful Heat the Streets pilot carried out by the Kensa Group in Stithians, Cornwall. The technology of providing domestic heating and cooling—all you have to do is turn the switch and you can start to cool a building as well as heat it—via shallow geothermal ground source heat pump grids in the form of an easily accessible utility service analogous to piped gas is proven and shown to be popular with participants. What is needed now is a trial to deploy it on a much larger scale in a realistic UK town or city scenario, which is what my amendment seeks to do.

Photo of Lord Stunell Lord Stunell Liberal Democrat 8:15, 4 September 2023

My Lords, I rise because every one of these amendments merits serious consideration by the Government. I hope very much that the Minister, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, will be able to stretch his brief somewhat in responding to them.

It is a particular pleasure to support the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, in his advocacy for healthy homes in Amendment 191A. He has rightly argued that having healthy homes in this country is a vital step in promoting and enhancing well-being. Well-being was at the heart of 19th-century reforms of housing. It was also at the heart of 20th-century reforms of housing, where the underlying and clearly expressed purpose was to make sure that people’s homes enabled them to live lives which were productive, meaningful and, for them, a success. As the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, argued cogently, a healthy home is a gateway to life; it is a prerequisite of educational attainment as well as gainful employment. It has to be at the core of any genuine attempt to level up.

I want to take the noble Earl, Lord Howe, back a little way to what is almost a historic document now. A White Paper was produced on levelling up, and in it were missions which the Government committed to and set targets to achieve. Mission 10 said that, by 2030, which is now just six years away,

“the government’s ambition is for the number of non-decent rented homes to have fallen by 50%”.

That is a long way to go in a short period of time, but it shows that the Government understood that a healthy home was a prerequisite for a healthy society.

Mission 5 was about education. Again, by 2030, in six years’ time,

“the percentage of children meeting the expected standard in the worst performing areas will have increased by over a third”.

Those children in the worst performing areas, funnily enough, all live in the worst housing and accommodation.

Mission 7 talks about healthy life expectancy, something on which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, spoke very eloquently. Again, by 2030, the gap between the highest and lowest areas is to have narrowed and, by 2035, the healthy life expectancy of the whole country is to rise by five years.

The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, as well as the other amendments in this group, are all keystone decisions on policy that the Government need to take if they are to close the gap as set out in those mission statements—and as they are supposed, and claim, to be doing through this Bill.

The reality is that nothing else in this Bill will or could move the dial on any of those mission objectives, yet they are supposedly central to all the time and effort that noble Lords in this House and Members at the other end of the building have put into this so far. I hope that the Minister will be able to engage with all these amendments and, specifically, the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, and not simply read the brief as he did in Committee.

All the other amendments are worthy of merit, but I want particularly to mention in this group Amendment 282L, which I have put my name to, relating to low-carbon heat, energy-efficient homes and so on. That has been a lifelong goal—half a lifetime of my political and professional activity has been in trying to make sure that these things happened.

I recall—as, I am sure, does the Minister—that we would have proceeded to have zero-carbon new homes at least in 2016 had the proposed plan not been discontinued by the incoming Conservatives. I hope that at the very least he can reassure us that in 2025 the new homes standard will really come in and move things in the right direction. In the meantime, giving his assent to Amendment 282H would be a clear signal to the industry and developers that that is the direction in which we are to go.

Also in this group is Amendment 198 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Willis of Summertown, which was introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and signed by my noble friend Lord Foster of Bath, who unfortunately is unable to be here today. It is on the same track exactly, asserting the importance of good quality and affordable housing to our health and welfare. I am indebted to the Better Planning Coalition for its briefing on this.

We are still building housing that fails to meet basic standards for health and safety. Our existing housing stock is poor. The Resolution Foundation reports that there are 6.5 million people living in poor-quality housing, including homes that are cold, damp and in poor repair—that is one in 10 people. Once again, the Government’s mission 10 sets out an aim to halve the number of non-decent homes in the private rented sector by 2023. Living in poor-quality homes makes people twice as likely to have poor general health as those who do not, and they face increased stress and anxiety. The links between health and housing go beyond quality. Professor Sir Michael Marmot found that affordability as well as quality affects health, and living in overcrowded and unaffordable housing is linked with depression and anxiety. We shall return to that in the debate on a further group later tonight.

If we want to enable people to live healthier lives, we also need to examine how our homes and environment can be adapted as our life stories alter, whether through illness, injury or ageing. I hope that I can persuade the Minister to restate the Government’s commitment to ensuring that new homes are built to higher accessibility standards, as well as to better insulation and efficiency standards, from 2025. The statutory duty in Amendment 198 would provide local authorities with the flexibility to meet local health needs while giving them the mandate to take action that has been sorely lacking when we have had to rely purely on the vague language within the National Planning Policy Framework.

The amendments from both the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, and the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, would make sure that the planning space paid special regard to creating local places where homes are affordable to local residents, where they are developed to good conditions and adaptable standards, and where they are connected to facilities and services that maximise the opportunity to be active in a safe and pleasant environment.

There is a dreadful alternative—in fact, it is the alternative world that we actually live in—of increasing health inequalities, with additional problems for individuals and families and increasing demands on public health and care services. I hope the Minister agrees that the moment has come to move from this alternative world that we are in to one that could be delivered with these amendments. I and my colleagues look forward to supporting those that are taken to a vote if the Minister does not agree.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, for speaking to his amendment, introducing the debate on this group and bringing forward clear arguments for why the Government should consider accepting his amendments. For two years or so the noble Lord, supported by the Town and Country Planning Association, has led a campaign to put people’s health and housing at the centre of how we regulate our built environment. I pay tribute to him, and I am pleased to offer our support for his amendment.

During the time that he has been pushing on this, medical evidence surrounding the relationship between the condition of someone’s home and their life chances has become even stronger. We have heard evidence of the shockingly poor standards even of some new homes that are being created through our deregulated planning system. The amendments could prevent the development of poor-quality housing, which continues to undermine people’s health and well-being. While the Government have acknowledged that housing and health are key to the levelling-up agenda, the Bill currently contains no clear provisions for how we are to achieve that objective. So we support the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, in his efforts to put new obligations on the Secretary of State.

We hope that the Government will change their approach and accept these amendments as a sensible starting point on a journey to transform the quality of people’s homes, with benefits to them and to the national health and social care budgets. But if this does not happen and the noble Lord is not satisfied by the Minister’s response, we will be happy to support him in a vote.

I turn quickly to Amendment 198 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Willis of Summertown. I thank my noble friend Lord Hunt for so eloquently introducing that amendment because health inequalities have come up on a number of occasions throughout the passage of the Bill, and my noble friend gave some vivid examples which demonstrated them. What struck me particularly in listening to his introduction to the amendment was that there are so many co-benefits in doing this, so why would we not look at this amendment and have the Government see what could be done? Maybe the Government would like to bring something forward themselves if they do not want to accept it but, again, if my noble friend wishes to push this to a vote and test the opinion of the House, we will support him, because we believe that the Government should really be putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to levelling up and health and well-being.

I was pleased to add my name to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, as we did in Committee. His amendment would require the Secretary of State to publish a consultation to amend the Building Regulations to introduce provisions for the reporting of whole-life carbon emissions of buildings. I spoke previously in Committee about our support for this approach and I thank the noble Lord for bringing it back, so I will not go into detail and repeat the arguments here. But it is important to stress, as the noble Lord did, that reducing embodied carbon is a key part of ensuring that buildings have net-zero emissions, because we know that around 10% of our national greenhouse gas emissions are associated with construction. As he so clearly said, the industry is ready to move on this, so regulation needs to catch up. It would be really good to hear some positive response from the Minister as to how the Government are going to achieve this through the consultation that has already been discussed.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has two amendments in this group, and I was very pleased to hear her extremely clear introductions to them. The amendment to require solar panels to be installed on all new homes, public and commercial buildings, as well as existing ones, subject to appropriate exemptions and criteria, seems to make perfect sense to me—it really does. We know that the UK has a target to cut emissions of CO2 by 80% by 2050 but, as we heard from other speakers, the Government are way off target on achieving this. We know that solar photovoltaic panels are one key way in which new homes can create more environmentally friendly development, support energy security—as the noble Baroness said—and help us to hit those net-zero carbon targets. However, this has to start with new build. It is much cheaper to install on new build than it is to retrofit so, again, why not bring this in to planning regulations to look at how we can move this forward, not just for residential but for commercial warehouse buildings in particular?

The noble Baroness’s second amendment, Amendment 282L, is also important. It would impose a duty on the Secretary of State to bring forward a plan with time-bound proposals for low-carbon heat, energy-efficient homes and higher standards. The noble Baroness is a great campaigner on the importance of energy efficiency. Again, we support what she is trying to achieve and very much hope that the Government will give a positive response to this and to her amendment within the Energy Bill.

Finally, it was important that the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, drew attention to the huge problem of decarbonising domestic heating, as this is a huge challenge for the Government going forward.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 8:30, 4 September 2023

My Lords, Amendments 191A, 191B and 286 all deal with the principle of healthy homes. I am the first to say that the debates we have had on this subject are a reminder, if one were ever needed, of the key importance of healthy living environments. Much of the case put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, and others centres on the idea of having fixed standards in this whole area. On that, I hope he will welcome the news that the Government have listened. Where fixed standards are the best approach, we are taking action.

For example, we are currently reviewing the decent homes standard, which sets minimum standards regarding the physical condition of social rented homes. We have also committed to introducing the decent homes standard to the private rented sector for the first time at the earliest legislative opportunity. On building standards, we will consult on a full technical specification for the future homes standard and then introduce the necessary legislation in 2024 ahead of implementation in 2025. I hope that that combination of actions will be music to the ears of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp.

The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, referred to the mission statement in the levelling up White Paper. The measures we are taking should reassure him, I hope, that those missions are still a top priority.

In Committee, I warned about the risks of introducing undue prescriptiveness in this area. That is why I also hope noble Lords recognise that, in the planning system, a degree of flexibility is often needed to reflect the great variety of issues individual schemes may pose. With the best will in the world, any set of prescriptive and rigid rules makes no allowance for such individual circumstances.

Having said that, I want to re-emphasise the added weight that this Bill will give to both national and local policies for controlling development. How our national policies can support healthy living is most definitely something that we will wish to engage and reflect on as we come to update them.

That leads me to a further point. We are currently consulting on proposals to allow permitted development rights, with existing prior approvals on design or external appearance, to include consideration of design codes where they are in place locally.

I am very sympathetic to the intentions behind these amendments, but we are concerned that they would create a legal framework which cuts directly across the actions I have referred to. At worst, they could even hinder progress in pursuing healthy homes by creating uncertainty about the obligations which apply, with the associated risks of legal challenge and delay. It is those concerns which prevent us being able to support these amendments.

Turning to Amendment 198, I listened with care and a large measure of agreement to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, on this topic. I remind the House that health and well-being is already a key consideration in the planning system, and changes made through this Bill will strengthen this. The National Planning Policy Framework states that plans should set out a

“strategy for the pattern, scale and design quality of places”.

The framework is clear that:

“Planning policies and decisions should aim to achieve … places which … enable and support healthy lifestyles”, including through the provision of open spaces, sport and recreation facilities and layouts that encourage walking and cycling. In other words, these are the key building blocks to better health the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, referred to.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark indicated his concern that that does not seem to be enough. In response to that concern, changes through this Bill will mean that, in future, planning applications must be decided in accordance with the development plan and any applicable national development management policies, unless material considerations strongly indicate otherwise. It would no longer be enough for other considerations merely to indicate otherwise. That has two effects. First, it will make sure that locally produced policies have a strengthened role in planning decisions. Secondly, national development management policies will give national policies statutory status in planning decisions for the first time.

On the design of buildings, the national model design code provides guidance on the production of local design codes, including consideration of health and well-being. The Bill requires every local planning authority to produce a design code for its area. They will have full weight in the planning decision-making.

Furthermore, we have looked for ways of achieving further join-up. To that end, Active Travel England was established as a statutory consultee within the planning system as of June. It is responsible for making walking, wheeling and cycling the preferred choice for everyone to get around. Therefore, although I fully understand the essence of this amendment, we believe that the status of these considerations in the planning system, as enhanced by the Bill, is already provided for.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, for his engagement on embodied carbon in buildings. The Government agree that reducing these emissions is crucial. I listened with great care as well to the noble Lord, Lord Best. I completely agree with both noble Lords that, to reduce the embodied carbon of buildings, we must decarbonise every part of the supply chain in their construction, from the manufacture and transport of materials to the construction processes on site.

Across government and industry, a great deal of work is already contributing to a reduction in the embodied carbon across those construction supply chains. The Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy and the transport decarbonisation plan, for example, set out how large sectors of the economy will decarbonise. The England Trees action plan looks to increase the production of timber, which can be used to replace higher-carbon materials in construction when it is safe to do so.

As the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, is aware, the Government intend to consult this year on our approach to measuring and reducing embodied carbon in new buildings. This will be informed by in-depth research, and I am pleased that members of the Part Z team sit on the steering group for that research. I reassure the noble Lord that the Government are listening to calls for a change to the building regulations and will continue to engage with him as policy develops. However, it is vital that we understand the impacts of potential interventions—which will be the focus of the consultation—before any commitment to a specific intervention. I know that the noble Lord takes that point.

Amendment 282H, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Sheehan, and my noble friend Lord Lucas, is on solar panels. Renewable energy, such as that generated from solar panels, is a key part of our strategy to reach net zero—I hope that that is accepted. However, as I argued in Committee, and as I think the noble Baroness recognises, not all homes are suitable for solar panels. For instance, some homes are heavily shaded due to nearby buildings or trees. So I cannot go along with her wish to make solar panels the automatic fix in the building of new homes—it is too inflexible.

Our approach to achieving higher standards remains technology-neutral, to provide developers with the flexibility to innovate and choose the most appropriate and cost-effective solutions for their particular sites. The underpinning to that approach is that, in 2021, the Government introduced an uplift in energy-efficiency standards that newly constructed homes must meet. We expect that, to comply with this uplift, most developers will choose to install solar panels on new homes or use other low-carbon technology such as heat pumps. They have to achieve those standards somehow.

As well as delivering a meaningful reduction in carbon emissions, this uplift provides a stepping stone to the future homes standard, which we will consult on this year ahead of implementation in 2025. The future homes standard will go further, ensuring that new homes will produce at least 75% less CO2 emissions than those built to 2013 standards, which represents a considerable improvement in energy efficiency standards for new homes. Introducing an amendment to mandate solar panels would therefore be largely redundant and would risk the installation of solar panels on inappropriate houses, as I said. So, taken in the round, we think that our approach is a great deal simpler and better, and I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able not to move her amendment when we reach it.

I turn to Amendment 282L in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. As the noble Baroness knows, this amendment has already been tabled, debated and overturned in the Committee stages of the Energy Bill, so it may not surprise her to hear that the Government will reject the inclusion of this amendment in this Bill. The Government have already produced a number of action plans, including the heat and buildings strategy, the net zero strategy and the net zero growth plan, all focusing on delivering the action needed to meet our targets.

As noble Lords have emphasised umpteen times, the Government must now focus on delivering on the commitments set out in these action plans. Developing an additional action plan would duplicate efforts when we have already laid out our plans to decarbonise the building stock and improve energy efficiency. The Government remain committed to the aspiration for as many homes as possible to reach EPC band C by 2035 where that is cost-effective, affordable and practical, as set out in the clean growth strategy. We are committed to publishing a technical consultation on the future homes standard as soon as possible in 2023, for implementation in 2025.

Furthermore, the Climate Change Committee already plays a key role by providing independent advice and scrutiny and holding government accountable by publishing statutory progress reports to Parliament. These are comprehensive overviews of the Government’s progress, and the amendment would duplicate these efforts. The recent progress report to Parliament is one such example of the critical friend’s advice that we value from the Climate Change Committee.

Finally, I turn to Amendment 282NA in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, which proposes to create a pilot scheme to retrofit a town so that it is powered by renewable energy and heated by a ground source heat network. Our approach to achieving higher standards of retrofit is to provide developers with the flexibility to choose the most appropriate and cost-effective solutions to retrofit each site. The Government are already testing the best approaches to plan the future heating of towns through proposals in the Energy Bill on heat network zoning and technology innovation funding for hydrogen heating. Let me be clear to the noble Baroness: networked ground source heat pumps are within the scope of the heat network zoning proposals, and we envision that these projects will be promoted through this policy.

There are also a number of programmes that support housing retrofit, including retrofit of heat pumps. The future homes standard which, as I have said, is intended to be implemented in 2025, is being designed to ensure that all new homes are net zero ready, meaning that they will become zero carbon when the electricity grid decarbonises without the need for any retrofit work.

To conclude, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, having heard what I have said, will agree to withdraw Amendment 191A, and that noble Lords will be content for the other amendments in this group not to be moved when they are reached.

Photo of Lord Crisp Lord Crisp Crossbench 8:45, 4 September 2023

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for taking part and for the great support which our amendments have received. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, knows that in our earlier discussions we always said we were happy to discuss the detail and how this would be implemented and that there were two sticking points. The two sticking points were having some firm, fixed standards—the MOT analogy I used—but also the whole approach to the system of promoting health and well-being. I very much welcome the movement the Government have made on extending the Decent Homes Standard to social housing but also to the private rental sector. I have to ask, of course: why not also to PDR, and indeed to all new homes, if it is good enough for those areas? PDR is obviously the area where there has been the most problems.

We have always said there is a great deal of flexibility in how these standards are applied. To briefly respond to the noble Lords, Lord Naseby and Lord Lucas, the amendment makes it clear that it is up to the Secretary of State to interpret these healthy homes principles, and it explicitly says that there will be differences between rural, urban and suburban areas, for precisely the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, mentioned.

I am very happy that there has been considerable movement. There has not been movement on the fundamental principle, which is that all new homes being developed, if I may put it in terribly layman’s language, need to promote health, safety and well-being, and that is where we need to be going. So, I ask the Government to think again and see if they can move further in due course, and I would like to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 158, Noes 149.

Division number 4 Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Report (5th Day) — Amendment 191A

Aye: 156 Members of the House of Lords

No: 147 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name


No: A-Z by last name


Amendment 191A agreed.

Clause 89: Contents of the spatial development strategy