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I also discovered that plans were being developed to build a new school, health centre and 500 homes, but little real and meaningful communication was actually taking place between the local education authority, the primary care trust and the housing company. All the structures were in place and the boxes were being ticked, but the opportunity to create a new sense of place was being completely missed. I reported my findings to the chief executive and was then asked whether I would play a lead role in directing what has now become known as the St Paul’s Way Transformation Project. My first task was to take 16 of the key players from each of the public bodies away for two days and build relationships. We began our meeting not with a conference or committee session, but with a meal. Initially there were many suspicions to be overcome, but by the end of our two days together, relationships were starting to be built and a unanimous consensus reached among those present. We all agreed that St Paul’s Way presented us with a great opportunity to build not only a new place with a real identity, but also to develop a new culture, and more entrepreneurial ways of working by which together we could explore new joined-up activity.

The aim was not only to transform the physical environment along St Paul’s Way and to co-ordinate the various planned developments, but also in the process to transform relationships between the various service providers along the street for the fragmented local communities. Partners agreed to encourage a change in mindset and to promote a creative and entrepreneurial culture in which local communities, the public and private sectors would find new ways of working together, following the experience of similar social enterprise projects in Tower Hamlets.

From a standing start 18 months ago, we have now brought to the table £27 million for a new school through the Building Schools for the Future programme, we have brought forward plans for the new health

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centre, and we are about to sign contracts for 500 homes. We are also working on plans to redevelop two churches that sit at either end of the street and on plans for a new primary school, and are now running a “culture change” programme with residents, local head teachers and staff. We have further to go in the transformation process, which will take at least 10 years, but relationships have moved on.

We are grappling with public sector commissioning processes that still militate against all we are seeking to achieve. It is very difficult to make this happen in practice on the ground and to make it real. If the new agency is to break through some of the blockages that we have been experiencing and to be able truly to create real places with real identity and meaning, then it will need to be given the powers to break through the political and structural inertia that still exists in many places, particularly in some of our most challenging estates and in some of the cultures of parts of the public sector. Using the right words and ticking the right boxes is one thing. Turning the words into reality in real places on the ground is quite another. This amendment seeks to draw the Minister’s attention to these concerns.

The point of sharing this experience with the Committee is that this change did not happen by chance. Public sector structures on their own were not turning the aspirations of politicians into the new realities on the ground that they rightly desired. Indeed, many of the processes of government were themselves, often unwittingly, undermining the opportunities for real change. For the new agency to have real teeth and to cut through this kind of inertia, I would suggest that when it begins its work it needs to look very carefully at examples on the ground where people are attempting to bring real change and create a new sense of “place”, to understand what works in detail and to be given the powers to build on this knowledge.

Secondly, the Minister might like also to consider in her deliberations that in order to create a real “place” serious investment in terms of time and resources have to be invested by the new agency, not just in new structures but in providing appropriate training for agency staff which enables them to build the kinds of open and honest human relationships with partners and local people on the ground that can truly bring change. Only then will the agency be truly equipped with the tools necessary to navigate the complex partnerships that are part of the modern world in which we all live. The success of the new agency in this area will be directly related to the human energy, time and resources that it puts into building deep and workable relationships. Navigating the modern world is all about investing in people and relationships; structures and processes will never be enough.

Thirdly, all agencies tend to work to a regulatory structure. Rather than a tick-box, best-practice model, the agency might consider ways of evaluating whether real innovation is taking place, whether a real sense of place is being created and whether real partnership working is happening on the ground. This can be contrasted with a committee approach with all the appropriate structures represented, but little real

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change. A minimum baseline is clearly needed to ensure that public funds are being used appropriately. However, you can sense whether partnership is real and whether innovation is happening, not through lengthy reports, but by spending time on the ground. You can sense it and actually smell it.

Has the Minister considered requiring the agency to seek out places which are delivering on innovation and genuine partnership and funding them to play a role in regulation? Rather than an academic-led approach to evaluation with lengthy reports after the facts, why not get highly successful practitioners involved early to examine new schemes? They will soon be able to tell where the successful schemes are and where intervention might make a real difference. You might call it peer review by the best. Perhaps the Minister might require the agency to list each year in its annual report the innovative programmes that it has supported—what worked and what did not. If the agency is genuinely innovating, there will be failures as well as successes, and that should be expected. You could look at the excellent Phoenix Development Fund run by the then DTI until recently as a good example of government-funded innovation. Perhaps there should be a presumption not to regulate.

Finally, has the Minister considered the value of involving faith communities—here, I must declare an interest—in creating a new sense of place? As well as important in and of themselves, they can often act as neutral parties that bring people and agencies together, and are often overlooked when developing a new sense of place. Indeed, sometimes they can be considered a catalyst that can bring a new heart to the community. I hope that those thoughts are helpful to this debate.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Haskel): A Division has been called. The Committee stands adjourned for 10 minutes.

[The Sitting was suspended for a Division in the House from 5.40 until 5.50 pm.]

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I will make a brief speech. It is born out of having represented a constituency which the European Union, due to what in my view is its statistical errancy, thinks is part of the richest area in the whole of the Union. I do not think that that is absolutely correct, but I shall not go into the argument. While it has that background, it also has a characteristic which I suspect makes it unique among Conservative seats, in that it appears among the 100 poorest constituencies in the country when a calculation is made according to what proportion of households meets standard poverty indices. I have made the case before, but I shall make it again, because it responds to both the amendments in this group. I am not extrapolating from it to the larger scale, but using it as a single instance of where these amendments could make a difference.

This relates to my longstanding campaign that postal workers should be regarded as key workers for housing purposes. I shall give a brief example. In the constituency comprising the two cities in the centre of London, there are at least a dozen or up to 16 postal districts, if

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NW3 and W1 are each counted as a postal district. Much the two largest are W1 and SW1. To the surprise of some, SW1 has plenty of affordable housing and consequently the quality of postmen delivering letters in the district—a fairly key area in the context of the national economy—is high. They can walk to work and deliver the correspondence entrusted to them extremely efficiently and expeditiously. In W1 there is very little affordable housing, so people come in from outlying suburbs. The quality of people employed by the Post Office in W1 is not remotely of the same standard as that of those working in SW1. Some 96 per cent of the mail goes to businesses in W1, and there can be no doubt about the deleterious effect on the economy in the centre of the city of the fact that the postal work is done less efficiently. I do not mean this in any way as a criticism of the Post Office, since members of Post Office management have made these comments to me over the years. However, I know from the complaints that I received over a period of 25 years from constituents who were on the receiving end that there was a significant difference.

I am certainly not criticising Westminster City Council, but the term “monoculture” was used earlier, and I am saying that the concentration of a particular type of housing and the absence of certain other kinds can have severe consequences in terms of how a great city works.

Lord Dixon-Smith: Rather pessimistically, I think that the problem we are discussing is almost insoluble. We all know what a community is when we see it, but we are talking about trying to create one. We cannot create an integrated group of people from all walks of life by regulation, direction or even by the best of intentions on the part of an outside institution. A community is something that has to evolve.

In Essex, where we had two new towns, trying to persuade those towns to develop into new communities was something else indeed. After a sufficient period, they eventually did develop into communities, but it took a very long time. It took even longer for them to become what I would call part of the county. We moved massive numbers of people into this alien landscape; it was not a Martian landscape, but it was alien to almost all of those who had left London. They were moving into modern housing, whereas they had been living in difficult housing in east London. They had survived the war and they were wonderful people, but trying to turn them into a community and then absorb them into the community was very difficult.

Having worked through local government all my life, one of the things that I have become conscious of is that the more you try to force things in a particular direction, the more difficult you make it. People have their own ways and their own motivations. Most people, in my experience, want to get on with their lives in spite of everything that the Government and local government are doing to them and for them, and not because of it. Somehow we have to try to cross that divide, which is extremely difficult. The Homes and Communities Agency will have a strong influence on the social housing sector across the whole country.

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It will tend to put houses down in considerable blocks here and there. It is extremely difficult to do that in a way that does not involve the rest of community; but once you say that, you are in difficulties, because you cannot force it. The intentions are invariably benign, but sometimes the effects, as the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, showed in his remarks, can be perverse.

I know all too well that on the official side it is too easy for people to push their own interests or departmental purpose. They can be jealous of other people working in the same field and will not co-operate with them. It is difficult, if you stand above that, to try to make them do it. The problem is that wretched word “make”. In a great democracy, you cannot make people do anything. I think even members of the party opposite, like me, at heart are anarchists. We have to accommodate all this, and it is very difficult. The Homes and Communities Agency will have things to do on this, and the noble Baroness will say that they are going to do all this and it will be absolutely perfect. The trouble is that we know that it is not absolutely perfect. If you look at what is happening on the ground, much as we want all those things to happen, they are happening in bits and pieces, and some bits work here and there. We are not going to achieve it. Somehow, we have to give that ambition to the agencies in the Bill. If we try to prescribe it too tightly, we will get it wrong. I know that the noble Baroness is going to say something like that; I am not exactly arguing her case for her.

This is something that we have to find a way of doing. As the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, said, we cannot do it through the regulator; it has to come from within. We can perhaps help it to some degree with design. We had a wonderful debate on architecture a while ago. We can help it by mixing housing, and so on. In the end, it is an impossible task, and I do not see an easy resolution to it.

6 pm

Baroness Ford: The agency is intended to carry over some of the ways of operating from the previous organisations. In response to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, there always had to be a clear rationale about the location for investment; there were always choices to be made. In English Partnerships, our guidance from the department was always that certain areas—and the noble Lord’s former constituency was certainly one—fell under the criteria where investment was appropriate. Guidance will have to be given about which are the priority areas for investment. I am not sure that including the provision about inequality in the Bill will change or necessarily help that, but I fully expect the new agency to carry on in the way that the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships do, in addressing itself to those areas of greatest need, which are generally very explicitly set out for the organisation.

I listened with great interest to the contribution by the noble Lord, Lord Mawson; I know the development of which he speaks. It is very important that the new agency can do two things. Plainly, one of the key rationales for creating it was to bring together all those disparate funding streams that drive people

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mad when they are trying to make sense of all these things. There may be 15 different sets of people that you have to satisfy before you can try to get your project off the ground. We are bringing all those funding streams from within the department and those other agencies together, so at least there is a one-stop shop and a fighting chance for energetic communities to engage properly.

I hope that some of the structures and apparatus of funding being brought together here will address some of the points that the noble Lord made so eloquently. I could not agree with him more when he says that that is all very well, but what will make the difference is people who live in the areas, who care about the areas and who are prepared to engage with the Homes and Communities Agency and drive its funding in a way that makes more sense for those communities.

I had a great affinity with what the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, said. It is very important that the Academy for Sustainable Communities comes into the new agency, because its role is precisely to try to change the rules of engagement, so that new developments are less bureaucratic and much more in tune with what local people are attempting to do. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is absolutely right: some of the places that we love most in the United Kingdom have never seen a planner’s blueprint, thank goodness. They have grown organically, in a higgledy-piggledy way, and we have come to love them.

The agency must do two different things: it is responsible for creating some new places and for assisting existing communities to regenerate and rejuvenate those places. However much we may wish that things would grow organically, the agency must engage in master planning. Let us hope that when it does, it follows the admirable example shown by the noble Lord, Lord Mawson.

Baroness Andrews: I have discovered the problem with the Bill: it is too interesting. Our debates are too interesting. I anxiously watch the time, but I forget that I do not need to watch the time. This debate has been profound. It touches on so much of what we want for our country and our communities and what will be possible under the HCA and the new ways in which it will work.

First, I shall deal with the problem of poverty. I do not want to labour this point but, as a Government, we have made a very explicit and ambitious commitment to reduce poverty. We will be judged on what we have achieved, not least in taking 600,000 children out of poverty, and much else besides. There is no doubt that there is a very clear connection between poor quality, overcrowded, unhealthy homes and poverty. Poor people live in the worst accommodation. When you live in awful accommodation, you are likely to be least prepared and supported into work and training. You have less support for your family. There is an awful and toxic mixture of poverty and disadvantage. One ambition of my department is that no one should be disadvantaged by the place in which they live. The two problems go together.

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Inevitably, we are emphasising this great increase in social housing—£8 billion to go into affordable homes over the next three years—because we want to reduce, and, indeed, wipe out, poverty. Decent homes are the first step to reducing and ending poverty, but within that we have to know what we are doing. I refer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, and my noble friend in this regard. The Homes and Communities Agency has a raft of regeneration policies. As he well knows, this is not simply about regarding housing as a social necessity but about providing decent homes, building mixed communities and regenerating areas. That means economic regeneration.

On estates where our New Deal for Communities is in operation, one sees refurbished homes—these estates feel like and are better places—new community centres, brand new primary schools, new health centres with a much greater emphasis on outreach, new transport, new opportunities for training and new sports centres. That is all about lifting the spirit, creating opportunities for people to get into training and work and keep and develop their skills. It is about enabling us to bring an end to poverty through regeneration and better housing. We have particular regard for BME communities, which suffer multiple disadvantages and which need particular forms of support, not least to enable them to get out of substandard homes.

The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, made a very important point about postal workers. We are expanding the eligibility criteria for the new build homebuy and the open market homebuy products, which are a mixture of renting and ownership. Although it is important to continue to give priority to key workers and tenants in the social rented sector, from today new build homebuy and open market homebuy products will be open to all first-time buyers with a household income below £60,000. Therefore, postal workers will be in a strong position to access those new products. I am happy to write to him with more details on that.

The noble Lord, Lord Mawson, spoke powerfully about building communities, drawing on his extraordinary and impressive experience. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Ford for talking about the way in which we have traditionally prioritised investment so that it really makes a difference to the places that are most vulnerable and disadvantaged but which also show promise. The tasking framework of the HCA will reflect that, because it will reflect the Government’s priority of putting investment where it can work best. The noble Lord is right, communities are diverse; we do not need to specify this in the Bill. Bow is very different from Braunstone in Leicester, which is very different from Aston in Birmingham. These communities have particular strengths and particular needs. The Bill specifies that the HCA will work to meet the needs of communities, and that is what it must do.

The noble Lord, Lord Mawson, and the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, asked how you make communities. You do so by enabling the people who live, or who will live, in those communities to have a prior say about what they want from them. In some of

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the new greenfield communities that will be built, for example Northstowe, we must start by building the community infrastructure and the social infrastructure, but in a way that responds to and reflects what people say they want. Master planning does not mean anything unless you have the widest possible democratic input.

I listened carefully to what the noble Lord said about how you create a new sense of place. It is difficult to do that in a new community. We should not kid ourselves that these places will spring up overnight with a strong sense of community. They will be diverse, mixed and fair. At the very worst, you can design out things; it is not always easy to design them in, but you can if you work with the community. We have a lot to learn from the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, has led the partnership in east London. He is right that we need investment in time, resources and training. The Academy for Sustainable Communities is there to do just that: to build up capacity. He is also right that we should not be hung up on structures. The Bill simplifies structures, brings in funding streams and creates the one-stop shop—the single conversation—of which we have spoken.

Regulation must be appropriate, but partnership is key. That is where the relationships that the noble Lord talked about come into play, and the reason why we must hear all the people who speak for the community. Some people at the outer edges are never heard. I am thinking of LINks and the health model, which are designed to bring in people from the margins of the community to voice their anxieties and give them a sense of contribution.

This is about people and relationships. I hope that we can learn enormously from the community engagement work that English Partnerships has done in the past, which dealt with some of the pockets of resistance to change in communities. Some communities do not want to change, and why should they in many instances? We must give people credit for being happy, even if we think that their homes are not quite what they might be. We have learnt much from that over the past few years in what we have tried to do and how we have tried to do it. I am entirely sympathetic to that. As the noble Lord said, we must work with the faith communities and get under the radar. The faith communities are better placed than many to reach into communities that are frightened and that do not come forward to make their voices heard. All the faith communities have a big responsibility there.

So, no, this does not happen by accident. You can plan it, and we will be intent on planning it. What we can do will be explicit in the tasking framework. We have a lot to learn, and I am absolutely confident, given the things that have been said in Committee this afternoon, that people will watch the HCA as much for its style and the way in which it conducts itself as for its content. The conversations that we have had with Sir Bob Kerslake make me optimistic that we have a leader who knows very well what it is to listen to people and to take hold of sound practice on the ground.

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