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Challenge Funding

8. Mr. Booth: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to extend challenge funding. [29779]

Mr. Curry: We announced on 15 May the Government's decision to proceed with a pilot scheme for the allocation of local authority credit approvals through competitive bidding.

Mr. Booth: Is my hon. Friend aware that Conservative Members, at least, welcome the success of challenge funding and the principles behind it, especially as they affect inner cities? We also welcome its extension to other areas and the help that it will provide for estate action. The Opposition will never understand such success, nor could they ever achieve it, because they do not understand competition.

Mr. Curry: I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend's view. I regret that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) was not at the Leeds Armories 10 days ago to hear his hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) praising the single regeneration budget and the principle behind the

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Government's regeneration policies. I am afraid that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras is 15 years out of date.

It is true to say that our programmes based on competition work because they oblige people to get together, to put common programmes together and to secure additional funding--and therefore they get the best out of people and out of communities. Those are the principles to which we shall continue to adhere.

Mr. Dalyell: What is the justification for extending a system which, frankly, owes more to presentation than to substance?

Mr. Curry: The system of competitive bidding and regeneration owes everything to substance. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would care to take a trawl around the United Kingdom--perhaps by bicycle, if he is to follow the Opposition's precepts--and call in on some of the city challenge programmes and single regeneration budget programmes. He should also look at some of the urban development corporations. He will find that Labour authorities which, five or six years ago, were hostile to their very establishment are now saying that it has been an extremely productive use of funding, that competition works and that they hope that the programmes will continue. I pay tribute to those local authorities that are now acting co-operatively, working well and creating partnerships to deliver benefits for their communities. That is because the Government started that approach and I am glad that other people are following. The hon. Gentleman will eventually follow them.

Wind Farms

10. Mr. Charles Kennedy: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what assessment he has made of the adequacy of existing planning guidelines in respect of wind farms; and if he will make a statement. [29781]

Mr. Robert B. Jones: Planning policy guidance note 22, "Renewable Energy", provides comprehensive, robust and relevant advice on planning and wind farms in England. Our policy is to encourage the development of renewable energy sources so long as they are both economically attractive and environmentally acceptable.

Mr. Kennedy: I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that there is sensible all-party support for alternative sources of energy, not least renewables of this kind, but that, obviously, this needs to be balanced by the circumstances in each case? Will he consider--it is a typical example--the concern that exists in the highlands of Scotland, to which, I appreciate, his remit does not run in planning matters? Does he agree with the local planning authority there--this is as relevant south of the border--that these applications need to be conformable with local plans to ensure that the new brutalism that the Secretary of State has occasionally warned against is avoided at all costs?

Mr. Jones: As the hon. Gentleman says, the particular case is one for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman: it is important to get the balance right. We all subscribe to renewable energy sources as a principle, but it is

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remarkable how rarely people are prepared to support their location in a particular instance. One of the things that local authorities can do is identify the best sites in their development plans so that they can be identified well in advance of any planning applications. That will serve to mitigate any controversy.

Mr. Gallie: Does my hon. Friend recall that, in the 1980s, the so-called green movement championed wind farms? Will he confirm that the principal objectors to such schemes these days are those who are allied to the so-called green movement?

Mr. Jones: I am sorry to have to say that my hon. Friend is right. Often, those who subscribe to these ideas in principle are those who then campaign against any particular application of them. In that respect, green pressure groups are no different from the Liberal party.

Mobile Homes

11. Mr. Barnes: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the application of the council tax to mobile homes. [29782]

Sir Paul Beresford: A mobile home that is someone's sole or main residence and that is stationed with a degree of permanence will, with its pitch, constitute a dwelling, chargeable for council tax.

Mr. Barnes: Did the Minister see Chatsworth house in Derbyshire on the telly last night? It is rather larger than a mobile home owned by one of my constituents, which is worth £3,000 on the open market. Is it reasonable that the Duke of Devonshire, the owner, for some reason, of Chatsworth house, should pay only three times as much council tax as someone in a mobile home? Should there not be a much wider distinction between the two so that there is greater range and a greater number of bands is considered?

Sir Paul Beresford: If in fact that is correct, I would be suspicious about the valuation because, of course, it is not the variety of property, but the capital value of the property, that counts.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes: Does my hon. Friend agree that what lies behind the slightly bizarre supplementary question to him is that the Labour party wants to escalate the amount of council tax paid in the range referred to in the question? The question that arises in our minds, therefore, is what does Labour have in mind for people living in semi-detached and detached houses in my constituency. Is not the answer to that large bills--as has been let out of the bag today?

Sir Paul Beresford: My hon. Friend has touched on just one aspect of the escalating burden on the taxpayer at every level that Labour would place on people, if it ever had the power to do so.

Mrs. Helen Jackson: I wonder whether the Minister would like to try again? Is he really suggesting that, because the mobile home's capital value, at £3,000, is not very different from that of Chatsworth house, it therefore does not matter that Chatsworth house's owner pays only

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three times as much council tax as the mobile home's owner? Why will the Minister not consider extending council taxes so that they become a more equitable way of paying for local government?

Sir Paul Beresford: The hon. Lady seems to have missed the point that I was making, but that does not surprise me. We are talking about a simple system that is easily worked out. The banding was discussed. What she is asking for would involve dramatic changes, cost council tax payers very much more and complicate the system beyond what the general public could understand.

Challenge Funding

12. Mr. Patrick Thompson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement about his plans for further rounds of the single regeneration budget challenge fund. [29783]

Mr. Curry: Bidding guidance for the third round of the single regeneration budget was published on 29 March, and the deadline for outline bids is this Friday.

Mr. Thompson: Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government are providing more than £2 million over four years to assist a scheme to revitalise the Mile Cross area of my constituency, providing extra jobs, extra training and many improvements to housing? Will he also confirm that he is monitoring carefully how the money is spent? Is he surprised that Labour-controlled Norwich city council rarely, if ever, gives any credit to the Government for this type of assistance?

Mr. Curry: My hon. Friend is correct. He is referring to one of the very first single regeneration budget schemes. The city council is heavily involved in that scheme, which is revitalising an area of inter-war housing and involves £2.2 million and a further £7 million of public sector funds. The total spend will be more than £22 million. That is substance; it is delivering regeneration and other benefits on the ground--it is not merely presentation, as the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) appears to believe. Norwich city council is pleased with the scheme, and I am glad that it is now co-operating fully, as it should. We shall keep an eye on the situation.

Mr. Garrett: Regardless of this particular scheme, is not the Minister aware that Norwich has suffered most grievously under this Government? It has faced massive cuts in allowable expenditure, it has had to sack people and close valuable recreational and other facilities, and it now faces a further cut of some £3 million. Does not the scheme about which the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) is boasting pale into insignificance when viewed against the long-term damage done by this Government to public services in Norwich?

Mr. Curry: If the hon. Gentleman believes that the way to achieve economic revitalisation is to allow a council to continue as one of the most extravagant over-spending councils in the country, he will no doubt wish to stick with Norwich council. If, however, he wants to use local authority, Government and private sector

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money creatively and effectively for real regeneration, he can deliver it through the sort of scheme from which Norwich is now benefiting. Such schemes offer a much higher quality of spend and have the advantage of pulling in significant amounts of private sector investment, which would not be the case in a scheme run solely by the local authority.

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