Mr. Atkins : My Department and the Welsh Office issued a consultation paper "Review of Tree Preservation Policies and Legislation", in December 1990, setting out the Government's proposals for reforming the law relating to tree preservation orders in England and Wales. Some 312 responses were received from a broad range of
Column 451interests including local authorities, environment and amenity groups, farmers and landowners, arboriculturists, utility companies, and members of the public. Copies have been placed in my Department's library.
The continued use of the tree preservation order as a means of protecting trees, groups of trees and woodlands in the interests of amenity was supported by most respondents. The Government agree that the system has proved its worth over the years, and have decided that local authorities' present powers to make tree preservation orders in respect of trees and woodlands would be retained. We have considered calls from some respondents who consider that tree preservation orders should provide not only for the protection of trees but for their management. The Government recognise the importance of encouraging the proper management of trees, particularly in woodlands but does not consider that the present system precludes local authorities from promoting the continued management of protected trees in their areas. We therefore do not think that it is necessary to impose new requirements either on tree owners or local authorities.
The Government's conclusions, which I am laying before the House today, set out three broad aims.
Our first aim is to streamline the administration of the system and bring flexibility to the way it is operated. The present form of tree preservation order, which is long and complex, would be replaced by a shorter, simpler document. The present exemption to deal with protected trees which cause a nuisance would be clarified ; and codes of practice would be introduced to promote the sensitive management of trees by statutory undertakers and utility companies in consultation with local authorities. Local authorities would be given discretion in determining the location of trees which are planted to replace protected trees ; and the present requirement to replace protected trees which have been removed in woodlands would be simplified.
Our second aim is to ensure that the system continues to recognise the interests of the tree owner. Rights to compensation for loss or damage incurred as a result of local authorities' decisions on applications to carry out works to protected trees would be clarified. A local authority's ability to make tree preservation orders over areas of trees other than in woodlands would be limited, and provision would be made for existing area orders to lapse after a suitable transitional period. Furthermore, in the light of responses to the consultation paper, we have decided against bringing forward proposals to repeal the tree owner's right to object to the making of a tree preservation order, and against giving local authorities new powers to require the tree owner to carry out, and pay for, remedial works to protected trees.
The Government's third aim is to ensure that local authorities have adequate powers to bring effective action against abusers of the system. The present offence of "wilful" destruction or damage of protected trees would be replaced by an offence based on recklessness. We would clarify that a person who "causes or permits" the unauthorised destruction or damage of protected trees is also guilty of the offence. The present exemption which allows the cutting down of dying trees which are the subject of tree preservation orders would be repealed, and although the exemption to carry out work on protected trees which have become dangerous would be retained, this would be subject to a new requirement to show that the work was limited to the minimum measures necessary. A
Column 452new offence for failing to comply with a tree replacement notice would also be created. However, new powers would not be introduced enabling local authorities to regulate the planting and maintenance of replacement trees.
The Government believe that these measures would improve the tree preservation order system in a way that would meet the public's desire for effective measures to protect key trees and woodlands in the interests of amenity, without placing unnecessary restrictions on the rights of the citizen.
A paper setting out each of the Government's conclusions in more detail, and a list of all those who responded to the consultation paper, have been placed in the Library of the House. The current pressures on the parliamentary timetable mean that there is no prospect in the immediate future of introducing the necessary legislation to enact these changes. In the interim therefore the current system will be retained.
Mr. David Shaw : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the achievements of (a) his policies and (b) his Department in helping small businesses over the last 12 months as against the previous 12 months ; if he will publish the performance indicators by which his Department monitors those achievements and the statistical results of such monitoring ; and if he will set out his targets to help small businesses in the next year.
Mr. Curry : The Government recognise the crucial role played by small firms in the United Kingdom economy. Government help small firms by keeping inflation and interest rates low and by reducing legislation and administrative burdens. They also provide direct assistance where appropriate and are currently establishing a network of business links to provide high-quality business support across the country.
The Government brought together in April the regional offices of four Departments--Environment, Trade and Industry, Transport and Employment--to form the Government offices for the regions. These will strengthen the co- ordination of programmes and policies locally and ensure that businesses have one port of call.
The Government's regeneration initiatives are being simplified by the introduction of the single regeneration budget which will benefit small firms by encouraging sustainable economic growth by improving the competitiveness of the local economy. We will continue under the SRB to monitor existing programmes, including measures relevant to businesses, and to publish results.
English Partnerships has been established and is tackling the problems of urban regeneration in co-operation with the private sector and other agencies.
The Rural Development Commission, sponsored by my Department, continues to provide advice and other assistance to small businesses in rural areas. On 14 February the Government announced a new competition, rural challenge, to be adminstered by the RDC. This will award six prizes of £1 million to innovative rural development projects. These will benefit small businesses by giving a boost to social and economic development in our smaller towns and villages. The Department introduced the Non-Domestic Rating Act 1993 to honour the Chancellor of the Exchequer's March 1993 Budget pledge to freeze rate rises for
Column 453businesses in real terms under the non- domestic rating transitional arrangements for the second year running. Following the November 1993 Budget, the Non-Domestic Rating Act 1994 then halved transitional rate rises for 1994-95, cutting them from 15 per cent. to 7.5 per cent. in real terms for small businesses. Small businesses with mixed domestic and business premises had their increases frozen for a third year.
In partnership with the Department of Trade and Industry, we have set up a review into the organisation of enforcement functions of local authorities with the aim of minimising the costs to business as well as reducing inconsistencies in enforcement. We expect to publish the results later this year.
My Department's Energy Efficiency Office continues to provide grants under the energy management assistance scheme to help smaller businesses reduce their energy costs. Over the past 12 months almost 3,500 grants, averaging about £450 each, have been paid to small manufacturing and commercial enterprises.
My Department has continued to work with DTI to support a programme designed to raise awareness of environmental issues among small firms and give them practical help and guidance on improving their environmental performance. This is in response to a recommendation from our advisory committee on business and the environment. Over the past 12 months we have made progress on both aspects of this programme--support for local green business clubs and for sectoral projects. Four further green business clubs have been launched with our support--in Leeds, Newcastle, Southampton and the London borough of Sutton. My Department has commissioned external research to evaluate how effective the clubs are in improving the environmental performance of small businesses in their locality. We have also started to support an initiative in the leather industry, working in partnership with the British Leather Confederation, to raise awareness and promulgate best practice among the many small businesses in that sector. Over the next year we will continue to fund this programme and to monitor the impact that it has on environmental awareness, attitudes and behaviour among small firms. In the competitiveness White Paper my Department committed itself to working with the DTI to review the procedures for alerting small businesses to new environmental regulations and for explaining them. We will take this commitment forward over the next 12 months. We have laid regulations to transfer some processes from the much more wide-ranging integrated pollution control system to local authority air pollution control and to exempt certain processes from control altogether.
Regulations were amended in October 1993 to allow a single IPC authorisation to cover an entire chemical process, from receipt of raw materials, via production of intermediates, to dispatch of finished products. The amended regulations also allow operators of what would normally be seen as more than one process to function with a single authorisation if they are producing less than 250 tons of product per year.
In July 1993 my Department issued a consultation paper on proposals to repeal controls exercised by local authorities to approve the design and fitting of arrestment
Column 454plant on small furnaces. We intend to implement the repeal by means of the general deregulation power in the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill, if enacted.
In March this year, we announced that in view of environmental improvements, we had re-examined proposals for regulations on the sale and sulphur content of domestic fuels, and did not intend to introduce further controls.
We have introduced a new definition of waste and issued guidance on its interpretation which is deregulatory in effect. We have helped small businesses by substantially increasing from 1 May 1994 the number of exemptions from waste management licensing.
My Department, in conjunction with DTI, has worked with industry to set up schemes for managing supplies of halons and CFC refrigerants following phase-out. Small businesses will therefore continue to have access to used or recycled substances to keep equipment running, thereby reducing the short-term costs of phase-out.
During the last year we have consulted widely on a number of proposals related to water pollution controls, water abstraction and reservoirs, with a view to deregulating where possible. In consulting we were careful to ensure that the interests of small businesses were adequately represented.
In our role as sponsors of the construction industry, we have encouraged the smaller trade associations to affiliate to larger unbrella bodies so as to improve communication between the industry and the Department. Information flow has improved through a new regular series of meetings and a relaunch of our magazine. The Latham review of procurement gave particular attention to the needs of small contractors and subcontractors to be paid promptly. We aim to minimise the burden on small firms on form filling, provide a statistical feedback as an aid to planning and encourage user-friendly research results. In addition, export support has been significantly increased over the past year to provide assistance to companies of all sizes.
In December 1993, my Department issued a consultation paper "Streamlining Planning" which proposed relaxing several planning controls which would benefit small firms. We will be announcing the outcome of that consultation shortly. The Planning Inspectorate agency has further improved its performance in dealing with appeals more promptly, to the advantage of all businesses.
My Department monitors all its programmes and publishes details of a wide range of outputs and targets in its annual report.
Mr. Llew Smith : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on progress made in the establishment of an Environment Agency since 15 July 1992 ; and how its proposed structure now differs from that set out in press release 499/92.
Mr. Atkins : I refer the hon. Member to the reply given by my right hon. Friend yesterday to my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth). The structure we propose for the Environment Agency for England and Wales is that set out in the press notice issued in July 1992 : the agency will be responsible for the current functions of the National Rivers Authority, Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution, and the waste regulation authorities. It will bring these responsibilities together in a
Column 455single national body, providing the opportunity for more coherent and integrated environmental protection and for a more streamlined service to industry and the public.
Mr. Llew Smith : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what meetings he has held since 15 July 1992 with (a) individual local authorities and (b) representative associations of local authorities to ensure that close liaison is achieved and maintained between his Department and local authorities over the planning arrangements for the Environment Agency.
Mr. Atkins : My right hon. Friend has held no meetings with individual local authorities or with local authority associations exclusively on the subject of the Environment Agency. Officials in my Department have held regular meetings since October 1992 with representatives of the local authority associations to discuss the proposed arrangements for the agency.
Mr. Pike : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the total received in national non-domestic rates in each year since its inception from each local authority ; and what corresponding payment has been paid to each local authority on the same basis.
Mr. Gale : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment under what statutes or regulations bailiffs acting on behalf of local authorities seeking to enforce payment of uniform business rates are permitted to seize from (a) limited and (b) unlimited liability companies goods essential to the conduct of their lawful business.
Mr. Curry : The regulations which govern the levying of distress to cover non-payment of liability for non-domestic rates are the Non-Domestic Rating (Collection and Enforcement) (Local Lists) Regulations 1989, S.I. 1989 No. 1058, as amended by the Non-Domestic Rating (Collection and Enforcement) (Amendment and Miscellaneous Provision) Regulations 1993, S.I. 1993, No. 774. These regulations are made under paragraphs 1 to 4 of schedule 9 to the Local Government Finance Act 1988. There were equivalent provisions under the General Rate Act 1967.
Ms Walley : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what assessment he has made of the implications of the environmental liabilities arising out of the Coal Industry Act 1994 on the nature conservation interest of special areas of conservation and special protection areas ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Atkins : Section 53 of the Act imposes an environmental duty on operators to have due regard to a site's natural beauty, flora and fauna, geological and physiographical interest. In respect of planning consents for coal extraction, under the Coal Industry Act 1994, the new privately owned companies will have to comply with the requirements of European law as transposed by the Conservation (Nature Conservation &c) Regulations 1994 currently before Parliament.
Mr. Shersby : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make an estimate of the extent to which EC directives on water quality have resulted in the increased cost of water to domestic consumers ; what action he is taking to reduce obligations placed on water companies to raise standards ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Atkins : The estimated costs of EC directives together with other obligations have been included in the current review of price limits by the Director General of Water Services. He will be announcing revised price limits on 28 July. The Government have sought to clarify the obligations of the water companies so that in general there is no need to go further than the Community requirements.
Mr. Atkins : The following urban areas with a population of over 100,000, as defined in "Key Statistics for Urban Areas : Great Britain : Census 1981" produced by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys and the Registrar General, Scotland, have no national air pollution monitoring stations :
Ms Walley : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the total planned number of enhanced urban network monitoring stations for the United Kingdom ; and if he will give details of future proposed sites.
Mr. Atkins : The Government intend to expand the enhanced urban monitoring network from 12 to 24 sites by 1997. The Department has also issued a discussion paper on integrating local authority monitoring sites into the national network. Advice on siting will be obtained from the quality of urban air review group.
Mr. Atkins : For the years 1992-93 and 1993-94 the European Community directive (80/779/EEC) limit values for SO and smoke was not exceeded in Stoke-on-Trent. The directive guide values for these pollutants was exceeded in both years. The data is as follows :
|Time and Limit ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Limit values SO2 Annual median |both years (50 mugm-3) |below limit of 80 mugm-3 Annual 98 percentile |both years (107 mugm-3 and 108 mugm-3) |below limit value of 250 mugm-3 Smoke Annual median |both years (14 mugm-3) |below limit of 68 mugm-3 Annual 98 percentile |both years (58 mugm-3 and 46 mugm-3) |below limit of 213 mugm-3 Guide values SO2 Annual mean |both years (53 and 52 mugm-3) |above guide of 40 mugm-3 Max day |max day both years (125 and 135 mugm-3) |above guide value of 100 mugm-3 Smoke Annual mean |both years (17 and 16 mugm-3) |below guide of 34 mugm-3 Max day |max day both years (98 and 84 mugm-3 |above guide value of 85 mugm-3
Mr. Atkins : The European Commission has recently adopted a proposal for a framework directive on ambient air quality assessment and management. My Department will follow the normal procedures for informing Parliament of proposed European legislation as soon as it is notified of the contents of the proposal. The proposal will come for discussion in the European Council in due course, and the United Kingdom will participate fully in those discussions.
Mr. Atkins : The Department is advised on siting of air pollution monitors in urban areas by the quality of urban air review group and for ozone by the photochemical oxidants review group. The latter is currently considering the siting of monitors. The Department has issued a discussion paper on integrating local authority monitoring sites into the national network and has already incorporated a suburban site in east London into the network.
Mr. Cox : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what are the criteria followed by his Department in approving industrial housing developments on land which is known to be contaminated by asbestos deposits ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Atkins : All planning applications are considered on their merits. Where land contamination is involved, it can be a material planning consideration. In such cases, before granting planning permission, local planning authorities should be satisfied that the development proposals include work to deal with any unacceptable risks to health or the environment and make the site suitable for its intended use.
Planning advice for development on contaminated land is contained in planning policy guidance note 23 "Planning and Pollution Control", published earlier this month.
Advice on the investigation, assessment and treatment of asbestos- contaminated sites is provided by the
Column 458inter-departmental committee on the redevelopment of contaminated land guidance note 64/85, 2nd edition October 1990, "Asbestos on Contaminated Land".
Ms Walley : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will list (a) the sites of special scientific interest which have been identified for a road building or road widening programme and (b) those sites in respect of which he has (i) issued a Nature Conservation Order under section 29 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 or (ii) made an order for the compulsory purchase of the land in the last two years.
Mr. Atkins : Comprehensive information about road building or widening programnmes which might affect SSSIs is not held centrally and could not be obtained except at disproportionate cost. The following nature conservation orders have been made in the last two years :
Site |Date made ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Sawston Hall Meadows (Cambridgeshire) 1992 |12 November 1992 Kernick and Ottery Meadows (Cornwall) 1993 |27 April 1993 Lindisfarne (Northumberland) 1993 |15 October 1993 Lingwood Meadows (Suffolk) 1994 | 8 February 1994
No compulsory purchase orders under part II of the 1981 Act have been made in the last two years.
Mr. Atkins : Regulation 28 of the Conservation of Natural Habitats Regulations 1994, recently laid before the House, enables the appropriate nature conservation body to make byelaws for the protection of important European sites under section 20 of the 1949 Act. My right hon. Friend has no plans to extend these powers.
Mr. Llew Smith : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has had from the construction industry in regard to applicability of the Kelly table on contaminated soil classification to licensed landfill disposal.
Mr. Atkins : None. The Department is currently preparing updated guidance on acceptability of wastes, including contaminated soils, for licensed landfill disposal and will be consulting industry on the guidance.
Mr. Llew Smith : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment (1) what information has been received by Her Majesty's Government from the United States Department of Energy that constitutes an environmental impact assessment on nitric acid for import from the Hanford Purex facility at Washington state ;
(2) what requirements exist for the conducting of an environmental impact assessment on consignments of contaminated nitric acid imported into the United Kingdom from the United States.
Mr. Pike : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to ensure that clearance programmes do not result in temporary accommodation for tenants while new starts are completed ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Pike : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment (1) what plans he has to produce an interim report on housing association programmes for the next three years ; what are the available indicators for forecasting the effects of cuts in housing association grants ; and if he will make a statement ;
(2) if he plans to produce an interim report on the Housing Corporation's committed development programme for the next three years ; what curtailments of this programme are projected following his Department's reduction in funding for this year ; what effects the reduction in the subsequent year has been projected to have ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Curry : The Housing Corporation published details of its approved development programme for the period 1994-95 to 1996-97 in December 1993. This took account of the outcome of last November's unified Budget, and set out the number of new lettings that it expected housing associations to be able to provide over the period together with the grants which the corporation expected to approve. The Housing Corporation reviews housing association grant rates each year. The review considers changes in a range of public and private sector indicators of future earnings, construction costs, inflation and interest rates, in order to determine the likely impact of changes in HAG rates on rents, benefit dependency and the availability of private finance. I am currently considering the findings of the latest review and hope to announce decisions on the 1995-96 HAG rates shortly.
Mr. Pike : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment (1) what plans he has to ensure sufficient affordable housing in the rented sector is available ; and if he will make a statement ; (2) what new plans he has to ensure sufficient housing is available to allow occupants the freedom to choose between buying or renting properties ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Curry : My Department's plans are set out in the annual report, Cm. 2507. The Housing Corporation is investing some £1.5 billion this year, enabling housing associations, the main providers of new social housing, to provide over 58,000 homes in 1994-95. The corporation now estimates a total output of around 179,000 homes over the three years 1992- 93 to 1994-95. This is some 26,000 more than we promised in 1992.
We have encouraged local authorities to make the most effective use of the council housing stock by keeping the number of empty dwellings to a minimum. We are also encouraging landlords to bring empty private sector
Column 460properties back into use, for example, by means of grants to bring them up to standard and through the housing associations as managing agents--HAMA--scheme which aims to bring 10,000 units back into use by the end of 1995-96. To build on the existing management strengths of HAMA, an additional £5 million has been made available in 1994-95, under the HAMA-plus scheme, for capital works to bring empty private sector properties back up to standard. Housing benefit is available to those who have difficulty in meeting the full rent themselves. We are committed to giving tenants the opportunity to become home owners. The right to buy has brought home ownership to nearly 1.5 million families in Great Britain and these opportunities have been broadened by rent to mortgage. Local authority cash incentive schemes and the Housing Corporation's tenants' incentive scheme have helped a further 21,000 people into their own homes, while releasing their existing accommodation for reletting to those in need. In addition, do-it-yourself shared ownership and other low-cost home ownership initiatives run by housing associations, are opening up home ownership opportunities where none previously existed.
Mr. Pike : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to offset any reductions in the Housing Corporation's programme with increases in the private sector over the next three years.
Mr. Pike : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what he now forecasts (a) public sector, (b) Housing Association and (c) Housing Corporation housing starts to be for each of the next three years ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Curry : The Department does not prepare forecasts of new house- building starts. The Housing Corporation does not build houses. In its approved development programme, published in December 1993, the Housing Corporation expected to approve grants to housing associations for some 96,600 new homes to be provided through new build, renovation or the purchase of existing dwellings, across the period 1994-95 to 1996-97.
Mr. Curry [holding answer 20 July 1994] : Local authorities are requested to provide figures on their annual housing investment programme returns of dwellings in their area which are unfit. Coventry's 1993 HIP1 return did not provide a total for unfit dwellings, but its 1992 HIP1 showed 13 per cent. dwellings as unfit. There are doubts about the quality of the data provided by some local authorities on numbers of unfit dwellings, and the 1991 English house condition survey provides a more reliable source for national and regional estimates. The EHCS shows that 5.6 per cent. of dwellings in the West Midlands were unfit and 7.6 per cent. in England.
Mr. Curry : Government offices for the regions and Government Departments have received several hundred responses and comments about the single regeneration budget including those made following consultation on the draft bidding guidance for the budget.
Mr. Burden : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment (1) what measures are being taken to protect the existing spending commitments for current estate action schemes under the new bidding regime of the single regeneration budget ;
(2) what measures are being taken to protect the existing spending commitments of the urban programme under the new bidding regime of the single regeneration budget ;
(3) what measures are being taken to protect existing spending commitments for the inner city task forces under the new bidding regime of the single regeneration budget ;
(4) what measures are being taken to protect existing spending commitments of city action teams under the new bidding regime of the single regeneration budget.
Mr. Curry : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment told the House on 4 November 1993, Official Report, column 515, that continuing commitments under the 20 programmes which have been combined in the single regeneration budget will be met. These programmes include estate action, the urban programme, inner-city task forces and city action teams.