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As the Minister knows, one of the things that has irked me for many years is the manner in which council housing was sold under the regime that brought it in in 1979. Nothing has irked me more than hearing colleagues on the other side of the Chamber bemoaning the fact that there is no affordable housing in their areas, particularly in rural areas. The reason why is that it has been sold under legislation and not replaced. The CLT attempts to keep the key to this, the land, in the ownership of the community. The community controls it. The Minister and her colleagues will do well if they accept an amendment I intend to table in order to help the Government and those who wish to use this weapon. I understand the reason why a suggestion was rejected in the other place was that it appeared to prescribe the powers and activity of the major agency. We can get round that. I will table an amendment with a form of words that will ask the Government to agree to a precise legal definition. It will not put the onus on the Government to do much more than that. I believe that it will be well received.
Community land trusts go back at least to the garden city movement. CLT arrangements in the USA and Australia have empowered communities to contribute to increasing the supply of housing to rent that will remain permanently affordable from one generation to the next. In the housing Green Paper of 2007, the Government stated their support for CLTs. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have also done so, so I ought to be knocking at an open door. I am not putting cost or time on the Government; I am giving them a further weapon in their armoury.
Over the years when I was the leader of a council and chairman of a housing committee, by and large, housing was either privately owned or council ownedother ways were very limited. Now we have a range of ownerships and opportunities. In the Bill, a number of mechanisms will empower tenants to take a better interest and activity in their home. There can be no great prize for an individual who cannot afford to or does not want to buy but wants a stake in what is happening to his community and his home. The community land trust mechanism should be considered.
I conclude by congratulating the Minister on her courage, because it is not easy. As we have heard, and as my postbag has demonstrated, there are a lot of people who, for their own vested interest, object to what the Government are trying to do. I am not averse to examining some of thosenor, I believe, will the Minister be. At the end of the day, I hope that we can take housing out of the political maelstrom that it has been in for the past 20 or 30 years. This is a good opportunity and I congratulate the Minister and her colleagues on providing a Bill that I believe will be in the best interest not only of the country but of our communities.
Baroness Billingham: My Lords, the Government are indeed to be congratulated on the Bill as a way to make homes more affordable and available. It is long overdue and will bring fairness back into the housing pool. Social housing is essential to satisfy the needs of poorer people in our communities and the Bill deals comprehensively with that issue. The Homes and Communities Agency follows in the footsteps of the urban regeneration agencies. As a former chair of Catalyst Corby, I saw at first hand the excellent work done by a URC, which has transformed the entire town of Corby from a rundown to a vibrant town.
I know that the HCA will draw on the experience of URCs. Outcomes are achieved by outstanding teamwork. All the key agenciesthe Government, local government and voluntary organisationscame together in Corby to give unprecedented cohesion in planning and delivery of what is now virtually a new town. We were fortunate to gain the fullest support from local residents and, importantly, from the media. Everyone got behind the initiatives and we were doubly blessed to have Bob Lane as our chief executive and Phil Hope as our MP. I urge anyone involved in regeneration to take the train to beautiful north Northamptonshire and see Corby now, with 22,000 new homes being built, a wonderful new shopping centre, a new academy being built and stunning new recreational facilities coming into being. Possibly more crucial than anything else, a new passenger railway station is coming to fruition at long last. So, HCA, please take our lessons to heart in this regeneration game. We learnt some hard lessons early on and you can certainly gain from our experience.
I am taking a rather unusual route via the Bill to urge the Government radically to change the planning
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In making that case, I am indebted to both the Central Council for Physical Recreation and the Lawn Tennis Association. I have been working with those two organisations for the past eight yearsat last we have an opportunity to express our views here tonightto highlight the plight that is caused by planning guidelines to local authorities, which candidly are not fit for purpose.
I hope to give some examples of the problems, but first I remind noble Lords of the difficulties that arise and why they arise. I will use tennis clubs as my model, simply because I have been involved with dozens of them, and they have sought my help, for many years. Noble Lords should be assured that tennis clubs are not the only clubs caught in this planning maelstrom; all sports clubs that seek to upgrade their facilities fall foul of the same obstacle. This obstacle is the nimbythe neighbour who invariably lodges an objection to any upgrading, be it floodlighting, new playing surfaces or the improvement of social facilities in the clubhouses or pavilions. In many cases, the local planning authority recommends acceptance of the plan, but the local residents, who are powerful and often well resourced, combine to defeat their neighbouring club.
What is the significance? The situation is dire. Hundreds of tennis courts, in clubs and in public spaces, have been sold and built on in the past few decades. Successive Governments have rightly been pilloried for selling off playing fields. The problems that those same Governments have inflicted on clubs are far greater. Quite frankly, it has been scandalous. There must be change. The benefits of these clubs, which are often small and are in both urban and rural areas, are immeasurable. They tick virtually every box in the current social climate: sport for all ages, inclusiveness, active play in an age of obesity, the acquisition of skills for whole life and proximitythe list goes on and on. All that is provided in the main by volunteers who give up their time and expertise for free to a sport that they love. We slam the door in their faces.
I could give noble Lords chapter and verse on the miserable experiences of clubs up and down the country, but I shall give just one thumbnail sketch of the most recent club with which I became involved, just this month. I received an e-mail from Linda Faulkner, the secretary of Endon Tennis Club. I have never visited the club, nor do I know Linda, but her determination to fight for the club where she has played for 40 years is an object lesson in doggedness. Here is the Endon saga.
First, the club was established in 1920. There were no surrounding houses then, so anyone living in the houses either facing or backing on to the club knew that the club was there. The club is the only club in
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At the local council planning meeting in 2005, the councillors voted five to four in favour of the application. At that point, one of the objectors stood up and shouted that she was going to sue the council. The chairman then ordered the councillors to retire to discuss the issue further. They came back a short while later and voted six to four against. I know that this sounds like Zimbabwe and that we must remind ourselves that this is Staffordshire. Undaunted, the club reapplied in 2007. All was going well until the 11th hour, when an objector lodged another complaint that there were bats in the club grounds. There was more delay. The club spent £450 on research, which showed that there were no bats in the area.
But last week there was triumph and planning permission was grantedbut at what cost in terms of effort and exasperation? There were eight years of grossly unfair treatment in the local planning procedure, which was shown to be completely inept. How can we make sure that the planning guidelines are modernised? It is imperative that we do so. Looking at the Olympics and its legacy, can we justify not supporting clubs for which the legacy of the promotion of sport is being so cruelly denied?
Finally, I went to Goring-on-Thames yesterday for the Goring Tennis Clubs 40th birthday party. I went as the president of the Oxfordshire Lawn Tennis Association. It is everything that you would hope for in a club. It is lively and fun and it encompasses all age groups and skilful players, who are very proud of their club. When I asked about their plans for future projects, they said that they feared that they would never get planning permission and so would not apply. That is a fact. For every Endon that sticks to its guns, hundreds of clubs do not even bother to apply, because they take the view that the likelihood of success is virtually nil. Such clubs will wither and fail because they will not attract the new generation, who expect more than the conditions that I remember starting out with, where the local tennis club had an Elsan lavatory in a wooden hut.
I look forward to the Ministers reply. We are seeking better planning guidelines with fairness at their core. We want sagas such as that at the Endon club to be a thing of the past and the future to be positive and successful for all sportsmen and sportswomen at every club in the country. It is a real objective for regeneration. I hope that the Minister will give us some support and some hope for the clubs, which would make an excellent Bill even better.
Lord Mawson: My Lords, I, too, welcome what I perceive the Government are attempting to achieve in this Bill. The creation of the Homes and Communities Agency could have enormous potential and be a key delivery partner in building successful communities. The aspiration behind this legislation is laudable and presents enormous possibilities for the investment that will follow, particularly in some of our poorest communities. But, as a practitioner who has spent the past quarter of a century attempting to improve housing conditions and to regenerate local communities in some of the most deprived housing estates in Britain with some success, I know that the devil is always in the practical details. For example, giving tenants a vote laid down in statute about transfer seems very reasonable. But when you have watched the political knockabout in one estate that I know well, which resulted in a nine-year delay in new housing for very vulnerable families, you know that there are unintended consequences. I would encourage the Minister to look very carefully at this clause.
I fear that this Bill does not learn from what is working well on the ground and build on it. It seems to fly in the face of the modern enterprise culture that this Government have done so much to encourage. I am confused by much in this Bill and I look for a more balanced approach. I welcome the aspirations, but I am concerned about the practical consequences on the ground. The housing association movement was begun by the social entrepreneurs of their day who used their independence from the state to pioneer new and innovative ways of creating social housing.
In a small and specialist housing association where I was secretary 30 years ago, we pioneered high-quality social housing for people with drug-related problems. Alongside the accommodation we also developed a social programme for addicts, which pioneered new ways of working, and gained wide recognition nationally and internationally. Until the late 1980s, the first duty of the housing corporation was to promote housing associations. It is only in recent years that it has moved from promoting a new way of working to regulating and controlling.
This Bill takes this direction of travel to its next logical stage and, for me, it is a step too farnot that one is against some regulation. Some regulation has contributed to the success of housing associations. It is important in relation to the first-line service to tenants and to protect public investment. The Government are right to legislate to ensure a high quality of housing service for tenants. These are the core things that this legislation should be about.
In the USA, housing has often been the driver behind a great deal of social renewal and innovation. We have learnt from that approach in East London, and over the past nine years have successfully built with partners an award-winning £300 million housing company called Poplar HARCA, in which I must declare an interest as a founding director. The company is predicated on the idea of using the housing capital programme as a tool to stimulate a change in culture among tenants which is moving us all on from a culture of mediocrity and dependence
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In one tenement block I visited in the early days run by the local authority before handover, I found three dead pigeons floating in the water tank. All of the regulators paperwork said that the water supply met health and safety standards, but the pigeons would have disagreed and the tenants had not noticed. Today this company is putting together a £1 billion development programme in the centre of the Lower Lea Valley. When you watch an East End mother chair the board meeting of a £300 million company with development proposals of this scale in front of her, with the full support and respect of all the other company directors and professionals around the table, you know that something very important is going on.
My concern is that the Bill is travelling in exactly the opposite direction to those of us who are delivering successful change on the ground in East London, and is in danger of missing an opportunity to see housing as a core enabler of entrepreneurial regeneration. This legislation embodies precisely the wrong approach needed in the modern world. It needs to look up the telescope, not down it. It needs to ask how we are going to replicate and develop the work of the most successful housing and regeneration agencies in the country, not how we are going to make Whitehall civil servants sleep more easily in their beds.
The Bill paves the way for the spending of a great deal of public money on housing and regeneration in the coming years, and I welcome that investment. But surely the key question is: will this money bring the added value of greater personal responsibility and a spirit of enterprise, and will it be well spent or another missed opportunity by a Government who sometimes seem unable to break free of the desire for central control and a continuation of the dependency culture? Will it make the job of those of us who are seeking to innovate and enable residents to take more local control of their destinies easier or harder? I fear that it will make it harder for us in East London. This Bill refuses to let go of the view that government know best. One lawyer with many years of experience in housing and health told me that this Bill looked to him a lot like the National Health Service Act 1948. It did not really encourage innovation but instead put in place the centralised control of all existing structures. At a time when other government programmes have recognised that we now live in an enterprise culture and are opening the doors and windows to allow in the fresh air of business and enterprise skills into health and education, this Bill seems to be closing some of them. Why is that? It is very confusing.
In St Pauls Way in East London, I am bringing together a multimillion pound development with the local authority, the primary care trust and a local housing company. I declare an interest in this project. Together we will build a new school as part of the
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I am tempted to give the Bill the title of Back to the Future because so much of it speaks of another decade and an earlier century. Of course, it does not have to be like this. The commitment of the Government, through the new agency, to spend billions of pounds of public moneys in the coming years is a fantastic opportunity to redefine and rebuild some of the poorest communities in Britain in a way that truly learns from some of the best joined-up ways of working and from some of the best practice that the Government have encouraged many of us to grow and develop. Imagine if the Bill actually put the wind behind the sails of some of the most successful housing and regeneration projects in the country and we really learnt from best practice. What are the possibilities and what would we suggest, from practical experience, that the agency should do? My four specific suggestions would be the following.
First, for any new housing or regeneration scheme to work and deliver change you have to identify a long-term leader in that community, perhaps a mayor-like figure, who embodies the change and who builds the team. In contrast, the Bill focuses on changing structures as a way to make a difference. I do not believe that. All my practical experience tells me that you can change structures as many times as you like but it will make little difference on the ground. You must first focus on people before structures and build teams of people that encourage trust, openness and honestyessential prerequisites if complex partnerships are to work and these housing and regeneration schemes are to navigate the modern world in which we now live and deliver more housing in an increasingly bureaucratic world. The Bill is all about structures. I see little in it about creating environments which support people to develop the relationships that will ensure delivery. Big agencies are not necessarily able to deliver better.
The Government seem to want to look seriously at how you actually build new communities, new sustainable places in which people do not only live but also create a new culture in which they can take responsibility for their lives. But to do this, simply creating a new government structure is not enough. We have discovered that building new places is all about building human relationships. It is indeed about people before structures; the world of business knows this.
In this regard, I could not find a single reference in the Bill or the Explanatory Notes to entrepreneur or innovation, yet a key aim is to promote regeneration. What is more, there is only a passing reference to business. If the Government are serious about regeneration, then innovation, entrepreneurs and business are key components, yet they are missing from the Bill. This is the approach that gave us the Dome before business took control, rather than the approach which gave us the London Eye, which was driven by business entrepreneurs from the beginning.
I propose that for each new development the Government now request that an entrepreneurial leader with a track record be appointed and that business development, economic growth and supporting local social entrepreneurs are not optional additions but a key requirement. This is how you make places that are worth living in. In my experience, many large housing associations now lack this ability for entrepreneurial innovation. It will not be reintroduced by regulations created by the Bill.
My second suggestion is that if the Government are serious about innovation in housing and regeneration, then diversity not uniformity must be the name of the game. It must be about responding to local needs and opportunities. To be genuinely innovative and entrepreneurial and to discover best practice, people need freedom to innovate in both housing development and social and economic projects. The Bill will ask people to walk through treacle, I fear; the regulation of non-housing activities may stifle it. Innovation needs flexibility.
Over the years at Poplar HARCA we have often fought against the Housing Corporation in order to create innovation and we were told that some of the services we were creating in the community were not permitted. Now we have innovated and demonstrated success we are told that they are the best thing ever and everyone is being told to do what we have done. There are some housing associations which need to be held to account for their failure to create communities rather than just building large impersonal housing estates. The Bill is in danger of stifling the innovation of the willing while corralling the unwilling rather than inspiring them.
Thirdly, the Bill could present us with an opportunity to move away from the public housing monocultures of the past and to invest in the creation of new places; new towns and areas that have both physical and social identity. The Bill does not recognise that there are different standards relevant to different places, down to a fine level of detail. There is no overarching right or wrong; it all depends on the context. Monocultures created by government just do not work; they create and drive human poverty. My noble friend Lord Best has written an excellent paper on the importance of place-making if we are to deal with the problems of some of our most challenging estates. Place-making is not just about having a leader, bringing people together or having a clear quality design concept. It is also about having a clear and rooted purpose and vision for the place.
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