Levelling up

A debate on 11 May 2022 on the Queen’s Speech following the State Opening of Parliament considering the upcoming Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. The Bishop of Oxford spoke in the debate. Read the text of his speech, or  watch on Bishop Steven’s Facebook page.

My Lords, I want to congratulate the government warmly on the priority given to the levelling up agenda and to the ambition of the 12 missions outlined there. I know from my seven years as Bishop of Sheffield that the gap between different parts of the country has been widening for many years and it is very good that this is being addressed.

But, my Lords, there is, I believe a missing mission which is a fundamental flaw in these proposals. It is right to look to increase public investment and jobs and digital connectivity, to focus on education, skills, health and wellbeing and the rest.

But there is scarcely a mention of the environment, climate change and climate mitigation in the levelling up white paper. Surely all of our citizens have a right to expect clean air free of particulates, clean water and good access to nature. They have a right to new homes which are well built and well insulated.  Everyone should expect that national and local government will lead on reducing CO2 emissions, on recycling, on public engagement around these issues and mitigation of the damage caused by extreme weather now and in the future. Instead of an ambitious mission about environment and climate, the white paper settles for the much weaker concept of Pride of Place, which I believe needs to be challenged. I want to ask for change here.

Local government, at every level, has a key role in the climate and environment emergency. A few weeks ago, it was a privilege to interview Governor Yuriko Koike, Governor of Tokyo, along with other members of your Lordships’ Committee on the Environment and Climate Change. I was deeply impressed with the steps Tokyo is taking towards behaviour change to net zero. The example of Tokyo and many other towns and cities in the UK demonstrate that local government is an essential partner in improving the environment and can engage local populations sometimes more effectively than a national government.

Local government needs to be supported to take full advantage of the potential of the green economy and green jobs and every policy decision needs be consistent with the net zero goals and reflect the latest understanding of climate risks. The levelling up bill needs to be future proofed for this decade.

One of my own key learnings from the current enquiry into behaviour change is that such change must be led through a positive vision, good public engagement such as through the Climate Change Assembly and supportive policies to ensure the change goes with the grain of what it means to lead a good life in a positive environment. For this to happen, the UK government must demonstrate leadership and joined up thinking. Every policy in every department must be aligned with the net zero and environmental goals.

As the gracious speech indicates the Levelling up and Regeneration Bill will be a major piece of legislation in this session.  Will the Minister commit to further reflection on the White Paper before the Bill is introduced on taking the opportunity to set high environmental and climate standards for the bill, replacing the concept of Pride of Place with a full throttle commitment to creating a safe and sustainable environment for all?

Further reading

What is levelling up and how is it going? – BBC News

Watch Bishop Steven’s speech on his Facebook page