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Bishop calls for housing strategy before pre-General Election debates begin

22 September 2023

Church of England

The Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, at St Andrew’s, on the Isle of Portland, in Dorset, last week

The Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, at St Andrew’s, on the Isle of Portland, in Dorset, last week

THE Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, has convened a group of politicians and church leaders to work on a national housing strategy, to inform debates on the issue before the next General Election.

Dr Francis-Dehqani, who is the C of E’s lead bishop for housing, visited St Andrew’s, on the Isle of Portland, in Dorset, last week, where the church hall had been converted into two “starter flats” for people under the age of 25.

Such developments could “make a real difference to the lives of local residents”, she said; but local councillors in Portland had told her that “they — and we — can only go so far without an agreed long-term national housing strategy.”

This was one of the recommendations of the report Coming Home, published in 2021 by the Archbishops’ Commission on Housing, Church and Community (News, 26 February 2021).

“We have long-term strategies for public health, for the environment, and for climate change; so why not for housing? Especially since housing is fundamental to so many other areas of life and society,” she said.

The meeting last week was convened by Dr Francis-Dehqani and David Orr, a member of the Commission, who is a former chief executive of the National Housing Federation.

It was attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who, Dr Francis-Dehqani said, emphasised “that good homes for all is a moral imperative, and that we may need to make sacrifices so that vision can be realised for our children and grandchildren”; by politicians from the three main parties; and by housing-sector leaders.

“The UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence is working on drafting the strategy, and we plan to publish it as a backdrop for the housing debate in the run- up to the next General Election,” Dr Francis-Dehqani said.

“Our strength as a Church is not that we have all the answers, or all the levers to pull. Instead, we bring involvement and action at the local level, and a moral compass that provides purpose and direction. These give us the credibility to engage with those with knowledge and power at the national level.”

In the House of Lords last week, the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, asked what steps the Government was taking to ensure that the definition of affordable housing was “a good one. Could we redefine it so that it means affordable for most local people in that community, and look at what that is doing to house prices generally in each area?”

Baroness Scott, responding for the Government, said: “We had a debate on this quite recently on the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill. Through the consultation on the NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework], we are looking at affordable housing, and, when we have finished that consultation and looked at the results, we will consider it further.”

Comment: Housing targets: time to deliver

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