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Rail Safety

Mr. Nicholls: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what plans he has to include the safety issue of gaps between railway station platforms and trains, in the criteria for obtaining future train operating franchises. [129435]

Mr. Hill: The Deputy Prime Minister has asked the Franchising Director to evaluate bids for replacement franchises against the following criteria: commitment to secure better performance and customer services, the extent to which extra or earlier investment can be secured, the extent to which passengers will be given a greater voice in the level and standard of services, and value for money to the taxpayer. The Franchising Director will look to bidders to provide better access to the network,

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particularly for those with limited mobility and disabilities. Bidders will be encouraged to consult interested stakeholders, including local authorities and Rail Passengers' Committees, giving them the opportunity to raise issues which they would like to see addressed.

Mr. Nicholls: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what action he is taking to ensure that warning signs are provided at stations where there is a large gap between the railway station platform and the train. [129436]

Mr. Hill: Railtrack, as infrastructure controller, is responsible for the safe operation of its platforms. The Health and Safety Executive's (HSE's) Railway Inspectorate (HMRI) publish "Railway Safety Principles and Guidance" which, among other things, sets acceptable stepping criteria between trains and platforms. In areas where there is a large gap between the railway platform and the train, warning notices reading 'Mind the Gap' with hatching along the platform edge, or other agreed measures such as public announcements, may be required.

Mr. Nicholls: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions in how many railway stations there is distance between the platform and the train which exceeds 250 mm vertically, 275 mm horizontally and 350 mm diagonally. [129437]

Mr. Hill: The records held by the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE's) Railway Inspectorate (HMRI) are insufficiently detailed to provide information on locations where gaps may exceed particular dimensions. However, Railtrack have acknowledged that at 76 per cent. of their 2,454 stations there are one or more platforms that do not comply with the specifications for acceptable stepping criteria between trains and platforms as set out in HMRI's "Railway Safety Principles and Guidance". Railtrack is developing a strategy of identifying and dealing with these on a prioritised basis. HSE is monitoring progress.

Flood Defence

Mr. Steen: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what was the (a) percentage and (b) actual increase in the amount of money provided by the Department for Flood Defence to Devon county council through the standing spending assessment in each of the last three years. [130001]

Ms Beverley Hughes: The changes in Flood Defence Standard Spending Assessments for the last three years for Devon county council are as follows:

£ million

YearPercentage change in SSAActual change in SSA

(7) As from 1 April 1998 Devon CC area was reduced following the creation of Plymouth and Torbay unitary authorities. If the 1998-99 Flood Defence SSAs for Plymouth and Torbay are added to the 1998-99 Devon CC figure then the results would be (a) -0.7 per cent.

(b) -£0.037 million.

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Mrs. Golding: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what assistance his Department is giving to householders and local authorities in areas where the radioactive gas radon is a problem. [130214]

Mr. Meacher: Following the success of three pilot studies to encourage and assist householders to carry out radon remedial works, I am pleased to announce that we are embarking on a new programme in partnership with 31 local authorities from the areas most affected by radon.

The radon measurement programme, carried out by successive Governments since 1987, has meant that every home in England with a greater than 5 per cent. probability of being above the radon 'Action Level' has been offered a Government-funded radon test. In total, some 40,000 homes have now been found to be above the radon Action Level. However, only 10-20 per cent. of these households have taken any action to reduce radon levels in their homes. Radon is a naturally occurring, radioactive gas. Without proper action to lower levels in the home it can add to the risk of lung cancer.

To encourage action, DETR, with the support of the Department of Health, has been working in partnership with Derbyshire Dales, Cherwell and Mendip district councils in pilot studies to encourage and assist householders to carry out remedial work. In this new approach the local authority has been the main point of contact with householders, supported in the background by Central Government Departments.

The pilot studies have been very successful both in terms of the numbers of householders seeking advice and the numbers that have subsequently gone on to carry out remedial work. I should like to pay tribute to the enthusiasm, commitment and hard work of the three local authorities involved.

The 31 local authorities listed in the table, which all have areas within their districts with notable levels of radon, responded to the Department's invitation to work in partnership with us to extend the approach used in the pilot studies to other parts of the country.

In order to assist these authorities, and other with a radon problem, we have produced a "Good Practice Guide" based on the lessons learned and the experience gained in the pilot studies. This guidance has been made available in draft to all of the authorities involved in the new programme, and is being published today. I have arranged for copies to be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

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Mr. Loughton: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make a statement on the recent report by Cardiff University on the effect of the Government's regional development policies on competitiveness differentials between regions. [129834]

Ms Beverley Hughes: A central plank of the Government's economic policy is to improve the competitiveness of our regions. That is why we set up the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs), to address the disparities which had been allowed to grow within and between the regions under the previous administration. The RDAs have made an excellent start--securing thousands of jobs, as well as providing new work sites, promoting regeneration and reclaiming derelict sites. We are also looking to strengthen their

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role as economic drivers, and have embarked on a package of measures to ensure our regions have the skills and knowledge needed to compete successfully in the modern global marketplace.

Advantage West Midlands

Mr. Luff: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what steps he is taking to ensure the effective management of Advantage West Midlands; and if he will make a statement. [129783]

Ms Beverley Hughes: On Friday 30 June, the contract of Advantage West Midlands' Chief Executive, Tony Cassidy, was ended by mutual consent.

To ensure effective management, Advantage West Midlands will now seek to recruit a replacement. They have also arranged for the post to be filled on a temporary basis by John Edwards, Regeneration Director of Advantage West Midlands, and previously Chief Executive of the Rural Development Commission.

The Chief Executive of any non-departmental public body (NDPB) is accountable to the board. The position of the Chief Executive, and of any employee of an RDA, is an internal matter for that RDA.

I am confident that the Board and the Chairman are working in the best interests of the West Midlands.

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