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Local Government, Warwickshire

10. Mr. Pawsey: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received about local government reforms in Warwickshire.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Robert B. Jones): I have receive

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many representations on local government structure in Warwickshire. However, the review of Warwickshire is still in the hands of the Local Government Commission. I expect to receive its report next month.

Mr. Pawsey: Is my hon. Friend aware that the Local Government Chronicle recently published a report which stated that the Local Government Commission would recommend the status quo for Warwickshire? Is he able to confirm that? If he is, is he aware that the church bells will ring and wine--or at least beer--will flow in the streets of Warwickshire? It would be a marvellous Christmas present to hear something encouraging from my hon. Friend.

Mr. Jones: I have learnt not to rely on gossip, even when it is in the Local Government Chronicle . We will await the report and judge it on its merits when it is submitted.

Mr. Olner: Is the Minister aware that in Warwickshire and throughout the country people are sick and fed up with the Local Government Commission and with the fantastic amount of money that has been wasted on that futile exercise because it has not given local government the freedom that it needs to look after our constituents and communities? From start to finish, the whole thing is a sham and the Minister should admit it and abolish the Commission.

Mr. Jones: Considering that we have not received the final report for all the counties, the hon. Gentleman is prejudging the exercise. The decisions announced so far seem to have been well received, although from time to time we will obviously disagree with the Commission's suggestions. If the hon. Gentleman has reason to disagree with its original suggestions, the appropriate thing to do is to direct his representations to Sir John Banham.

Mr. Sykes: Is the Minister aware that, if beer will flow in the streets of historic Warwickshire, more beer will flow in historic Yorkshire if he allows the return of the historic county of north riding, as he did recently when he allowed the abolition of Humberside and its return to the east riding of Yorkshire?

Mr. Jones: I hear what my hon. Friend says. We have announced our proposals for North Yorkshire and for the former Humberside, which include the recreation of East Yorkshire, although not precisely along the historic boundaries.

Mr. Tony Lloyd: Does not the Minister understand that, if the Government are prepared to announce the order for the abolition of Cleveland while at the same time they are not prepared to let the review finish, it is not my hon. Friends who should be accused of prejudging the review but the Minister and his colleagues? Would it not be more responsible at this stage to stop playing party politics with local government reorganisation, and to let the commission finish its review before bringing any orders before the House?

Mr. Jones: That would be disastrous, and it would leave a large number of people unclear about their future. The hon. Gentleman presupposes that we are looking at the reorganisation in terms of a universal blueprint. We are judging each county on its merits, and it seems reasonable to announce the proposals for each county and debate them as individual proposals.

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Green Belt

11. Mr. Batiste: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many planning applications for opencast mining affecting the green belt have been made in the last six months.

Sir Paul Beresford: We do not hold this information, but my hon. Friend may be interested to know that our planning guidelines make clear that opencast coal mining should be allowed only where the development can be carried out in an environmentally acceptable way or where there are overriding benefits.

Mr. Batiste: Will my hon. Friend consider collecting such information? If he does, he will become aware that there has, during the past year, been a surge in applications for opencasting on green field sites within the green belt in Leeds and elsewhere in the country? If environmental acceptability is rightly to be the key test, will he or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State come to visit Garforth in my constituency to see exactly how unsuitable those applications are?

Sir Paul Beresford: I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has accepted an invitation to visit. As regards the information, I am willing to look into the possibility of providing it as soon as is reasonable.

Mr. Enright: Does the Minister further agree that in a constituency such as mine--which had huge numbers of deep-mined pits until very recently --it is an affront that, during the past six months, applications have been made for opencast mining in the very small pieces of genuine countryside which we have? Will he make a presumption against opencast mining in such cases, as we have suffered enough from mining waste?

Sir Paul Beresford: It is not an affront to apply. With the new regulations and the new attitude, there must be an

environmentally-oriented balance. Nevertheless, we must accept that minerals can only be worked where they exist.

Urban Development (Ebbsfleet)

12. Mr. Spearing: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what are the strategic planning factors within the responsibilities of local government and his Department which favour urban development at Ebbsfleet.

Mr. Curry: Planning guidance for the south-east aims to change the balance of development in the region from the west to the east. Thames Gateway is the main opportunity for growth in the region. Kent Thames-side, including Ebbsfleet, with its large and varied supply of development sites, has been identified as the main eastern focus for development in the Thames Gateway planning framework.

Mr. Spearing: Will not any urban development at Ebbsfleet detract from the development of east London, which was one of the strategic reasons for putting the fast channel tunnel link on its particular alignment? Is it not a fact that the proponents of stations at Ebbsfleet and Stratford respectively were not given equal access to Ministers? Do not both of those facts reflect upon the

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integrity of Ministers, and of any hon. Member who did not have a constituency interest and who was involved in that controversial decision?

Mr. Curry: As far as access to Ministers and ministerial visits to sites is concerned, I repudiate absolutely what the hon. Gentleman has said because it is not true. Ebbsfleet was chosen because it stood up commercially from the very start. Ebbsfleet was never in competition with Stratford--it was in competition with Rainham, because those were two potential sites within the M25 catchment area.

The reasons for Stratford are different, and nobody has fought harder than my right hon. Friend and myself to make sure that Stratford is still in there with a chance. We hope that we will get the regeneration benefit from the development at Stratford, but Stratford already has city challenge, assisted area status, and objective 2 funding, and it is already served by rail, underground and the docklands light railway. It will also be served by the Jubilee line extension. We hope that further developments will be attracted to Stratford, because we want it to enjoy the benefits of regeneration.

Mr. Jacques Arnold: My hon. Friend will know from his visits to Ebbsfleet when he was considering all the potential sites that it is located on exhausted chalk pits, so it is not a green-field site of specific environmental interest. Will my hon. Friend also note that Ebbsfleet was chosen because it is right alongside a pool of talent offered by my constituents of Gravesend and Northfleet, alongside deep water wharfs on the Thames and transport access to and from the M25 and the A2? Ebbsfleet is the right location for the international station and as a focus for the redevelopment of Kent Thames-side.

Mr. Curry: I repeat to the House that Ebbsfleet was chosen because it stood up commercially when the potential sites for an international station were examined and for no other reason. We hope that Stratford, which is east inner London, will also attract developments if commercial logic suggests that. We have fought to keep that opportunity on the table.

European Directives

13. Mr. Mackinlay: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what proposals he has for ensuring that outstanding European directives relating to environmental and ecological matters are enacted into law within the next six months.

Mr. Atkins: Our aim is to implement European directives as far as possible on time and in full. The House will be aware that we have just implemented the habitats and urban waste water treatment directives.

Mr. Mackinlay: Should local planning authorities, in support of the spirit of those directives, pursue planning policies that presume against development on sites of special scientific interest, will the Minister undertake that his ministerial inspectors and his ministerial colleagues will support such policies rather than demonstrate mere regard to the existence of SSSIs? Will he and his colleagues join those local authorities by implementing policy that presumes against development on SSSIs?

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Mr. Atkins: No doubt my noble Friend the Minister for Construction and Planning will hear the hon. Gentleman's point. We must work from the supposition that we protect SSSIs, but there are occasions, albeit a few, when that policy does not fit. We try hard at national and local level to ensure that SSSIs and other sites of particular interest are maintained, usually in whole, but often in part.

Carbon Dioxide Emissions

14. Mr. Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his estimate of carbon dioxide emissions for the United Kingdom in 1994 and predicted for 2000.

Sir Paul Beresford: The latest estimate for carbon dioxide emissions in 1993 is 152 million tonnes of carbon, down from about 158 million tonnes in 1990. Figures are not yet available for 1994. We currently expect that in the year 2000 they will not exceed 1990 levels in line with our commitments under the United Nations climate change convention.

Mr. Corbyn: Will the Minister ensure that the environmental and planning policies pursued by his Department are given some real teeth? For example, when considering planning applications for out-of-town shopping developments, the Department should take into account the fact that such developments lead to a vast increase in cars and, in turn, an increase in pollutants and obviously CO emissions. When will the Government change the general trend of their policy to encourage the private car as opposed to the interests of public transport, because that would be a major way in which to reduce CO emissions and thus the impact of global warming on the country?

Sir Paul Beresford: The hon. Gentleman is obviously unaware that he has just stated many of the policies adopted by the Department on those issues, especially after inquiries have recommended such policies. I recognise his attempt at a pun and that should have been anticipated, but given the plastic teeth with which the hon. Gentleman is smiling at me, he better be careful.

Mr. Robathan: My hon. Friend will know that the Opposition do not have a monopoly on concern about carbon emissions. Will my hon. Friend take decent steps to discuss with his Cabinet counterparts concrete proposals to reduce carbon emissions? In particular, will he consider reducing the motor mileage allowance to public servants, including Members of Parliament? Will he also consider reducing the number of cars made available to civil servants and possibly reduce the number of ministerial cars as well?

Sir Paul Beresford: Perhaps my hon. Friend will join me one evening, going home on public transport with five red boxes.

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Nuclear Waste

15. Mr. Gunnell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many responses his Department has received to the consultation paper he issued in August on the disposal of nuclear waste.

Mr. Atkins: We have received 251 responses to the consultation paper. A list of those has been placed in the Library of the House. In addition, we have received about 5,000 letters.

Mr. Gunnell: I am sure that many of those responses were from local authorities. Learning that the Secretary of State very much opposes central planning, when applications for the deposit of low-grade nuclear waste are received, will the Government's intention be that they should be determined by local authorities, so that they can respond to the opinions of local communities on the issue?

Mr. Atkins: I make two points in response to that. First, Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution consults the local waste regulation authorities and the local authorities before any authorisations of any type are made, and that has been the case for some time. Secondly--I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not party to this--there is a suspicion sometimes that the talking up of low-level nuclear waste, as though it were more dangerous than it is, gets the issue out of proportion. Low-level nuclear waste is the type of waste that comes from hospitals--rubber gloves, old exit signs and other similar bits and pieces, which, although they are obviously radioactive, are radioactive to such a small extent that they do not cause any damage or threat to the environment.

Mr. Michael Brown: Would it be helpful to remind my hon. Friend of the commitment that I gave to the electors of Brigg and Cleethorpes in the House in 1986? Would it be helpful for him to leave that constituency on one side when it comes to considering this matter? Would it also be helpful to him to be reminded of the constituency represented by my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary?

Mr. Atkins: I am, indeed, well aware of my hon. Friend's earlier pledge about those matters. I know him well enough to know that he would never have to implement it in so far as I am involved in any policy that is of concern to him, but I emphasise again that, as he well knows, if we have mentioned any specific sites--which we have not--we are talking about very low-level nuclear waste, which is the sort of stuff that has been going on for years and does not cause a problem.

Mr. Dobson: Will the Minister confirm that bringing the waste regulation authorities into the new environmental agency will mean that, rather than their decisions reflecting the opinions and anxieties of local people, as my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Gunnell) suggested, in future they will have to respond to directives from the Secretary of State,

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and the Secretary of State could intervene and direct them to accept low-level nuclear waste, whether they liked it or not?

Mr. Atkins: No.

Planning Law

16. Mr. Ronnie Campbell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to alter planning law.

Mr. Gummer: I shall consider the need for amending legislation in the light of the report, "Shopping Centres and Their Future" by the Select Committee on the Environment, and of a symposium on quality in town and country that I have arranged for next month.

Mr. Campbell: Will the Minister consider planning permission as regards Crown land? He may be aware that, obviously, residents who live next to Crown land cannot object to anything that the agent of the Crown land wants to build. In my constituency, where a big hangar has been built, the residents had little or no say in the decision to grant planning permission for that monstrosity. It was just built. In this age of the citizens charter, does the Minister agree that the residents who live around that Crown property should have at least a say in the decision whether to grant planning permission for whatever will be built on the Crown land?

Mr. Gummer: I shall be happy to consider the specific case. I believe that another case is presenting problems in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, and I shall consider that as well.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the planning system can never be totally prescriptive in every case, but that the normal presumption should be that the local plan and structure plan should take priority? Will he ask the planning inspectorate to make that the normal presumption?

Mr. Gummer: Clearly, the structure plan is the one within which all such decisions should be made. Occasionally there are exceptions, but they need to be extremely well explained and there must be a real basis on which to make a change. We want a plan-led scheme, but I also want a great deal more flexibility within the plans. For example, I do not want local plans which designate in advance the use of every single site. We need to defend the green belt rigorously but get mixed development in our cities, towns and villages so that we can bring people back to the centres and enable them to live, work, take their leisure and worship in the same places instead of forcing them to use their motor cars to drive long distances.

English Nature and Countryside Commission

17. Mr. Bellingham: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he next expects to meet representatives of rural pressure groups to discuss the merger between English Nature and the Countryside Commission.

Mr. Atkins: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment announced on 7 October that we do not intend to proceed with a merger between

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English Nature and the Countryside Commission at this time. Instead we have asked the chairmen of the two bodies to draw up a programme of closer working.

Mr. Bellingham: Is the Minister aware that the announcement that the two bodies would not be merged has been widely welcomed in the rural parts of my constituency? Is he also aware that the practical and voluntary approach adopted by English Nature in past

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years has built up an enormous amount of good will among farmers? Does he agree that it is essential to keep that approach rather than adopt that of the Opposition, which is to regulate and control all aspects of country life?

Mr. Atkins: My hon. Friend, who speaks with considerable authority on rural matters, is entirely right, and I shall convey his thanks to the chairmen of both organisations.

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