Kerry writes for Fishponds Voice, 1st January 2023
We’ve been debating the Government’s Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill in the Commons. It’s good to see some recognition that the regeneration of deprived areas is essential to the UK’s prosperity, but the jury is still out as to what this will mean in practice.
One of the areas of dispute was over house-building targets. We know we need more affordable housing, whether it’s to help people get on the housing ladder or for rent. By backtracking over mandatory housebuilding targets for local authorities in the Bill, the Government has shown that it cares less about regional inequality and urban regeneration than about pacifying its own backbenchers.
Building the homes we need has to be accompanied by investment in infrastructure, so that local services like schools and GPs aren’t overwhelmed and the transport network can cope. There were some concerns that the Government was attempting to bypass planning rules – along with environmental protections – in a bid to speed up development. It looks like this has now been dropped. Local councils will still be able to require developers to pay a Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), as well as insisting on a certain proportion of new housing being genuinely affordable. This is something that Bristol Council is very strong on, so it’s good to see that its efforts won’t be undermined by the Government.
Another positive development is the concession Labour MP Stella Creasy managed to extract from the Government with cross-party support, on childcare being treated as essential community infrastructure.
As the many constituents who have written to me about this have said, access to affordable childcare is essential. Local councillors Ellie King and Nicola Beech recently organised a “March of the Mummies” in Bristol to highlight these concerns. Parents of young children are being deterred from going back into employment because they simply can’t get childcare to cover the hours they’d be working. I’ve visited a number of Early Years settings in recent weeks and seen how they are struggling to meet rising costs, such as energy bills, and to pay their staff a decent wage. 11 of Bristol’s 12 state nurseries say they are struggling with budget deficits, and private nurseries are under similar pressure.
We do have cause to be a little sceptical about the Government’s concession. The Minister refused to back the amendment, but avoided a vote by verbally agreeing to consider childcare infrastructure. A verbal commitment means very little if it isn’t accompanied by actions, and it remains to be seen whether the Government will actually allocate any new money to childcare.
As always, I will be trying to make sure the Government keeps its word!
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