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Mr. Win Griffiths: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what action is being taken at the EU level to reduce harmful gas and other emissions in the transport sector. 
Mr. Meacher: Since 1993 the EU has introduced, a series of increasingly stringent emissions standards for new road vehicles. Further tightening will take effect in 2001 and 2006. EU Directive 98/70/EC requires petrol and diesel fuels to meet cleaner specifications from 1 January 2000. Further reductions in permitted sulphur and aromatics content in petrol and sulphur content in diesel will apply from 2005. Taken together these measures will have a significant role in helping us to meet our national air quality objectives and our legal obligations under the various EU Air Quality Directives.
Mr. Loughton: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what representations he has received regarding the future role of local authority planning powers within the area covered by the proposed South Downs National Park. 
Mr. Meacher: [holding answer 26 October 2000]: The Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), met with local MPs and a delegation representing local authorities in the South
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Downs on 12 October 1999, and listened to views expressed about the exercise of planning powers within a possible National Park. Since then Ministers have received a number of representations on this subject.
The Countryside Agency, which is considering the possible designation of a National Park in the South Downs, has been asked by the Government to look carefully at ways in which town and country planning powers might be exercised. A range of options for planning administration has been identified and the Agency will now consult with the local authorities and other interested local parties before making recommendations to the Secretary of State in due course.
Mr. Loughton: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what projects his Department is supporting connected with the First Check Point organisation to combat incompetent and dishonest builders. 
Ms Beverley Hughes [holding answer 26 October 2000]: The Department is providing funding for two pilot projects in Birmingham and Somerset for the Quality Mark scheme which badges competent and reliable builders and allied traders and enables consumers to avoid the incompetent and dishonest. The Department welcomes other initiatives which offer some measure of help to consumers to make an informed choice of builder or tradesman, including projects connected with the First Check Point organisation.
Mr. Loughton: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what funding has been made available by his Department to projects concerned with combating incompetent and dishonest builders. 
Ms Beverley Hughes: The Department is providing funding for two pilot projects in Birmingham and Somerset for the Quality Mark scheme which badges competent and reliable builders and allied traders and enables consumers to avoid the incompetent and dishonest. The Department welcomes other initiatives which offer some measure of help to consumers to make an informed choice of builder or tradesman, including projects connected with the First Check Point organisation.
Mr. Sanders: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what the element of SSA was for each local authority in England for subsidy of public transport services. 
Ms Beverley Hughes: Public transport support is one of the services covered within the Environmental, Protective and Cultural Services (EPCS) block of Standard Spending Assessments (SSAs). With a few exceptions (rent allowance payments, housing benefit administration, flood defence, coast protection, and national parks) services are not dealt with on an individual basis within this block of SSAs. Therefore, it is not possible to say what the element for public transport subsidy was.
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Mr. Gibb: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what recent consultations he has held with the European Commission regarding the terms of the rebates under the climate change levy; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Meacher: In October, my officials attended both a multilateral meeting on the revision of the state aid guidelines and a bilateral on the UK's state aids notification, in respect of reductions offered under the Climate Change Levy Agreements. The Government remain optimistic of success for the levy's state aid applications.
Mr. Menzies Campbell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (1) if he will make a statement on his Department's contribution to (a) the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Programme and (b) the European Incoherent Scatter Radar Project, stating in each case the (i) nature, (ii) duration and (iii) purpose of the contribution, including how many staff were attached to the projects and what financial support was given; 
(3) what assessment his Department has made as to the environmental effects of ionospheric research; and if he will make a statement; 
(4) if he will make a statement on his Department's contribution to the Scientific and Technological Options Assessment Panel's investigation into the local, global and public health risks of ionospheric research. 
Mr. Mullin: The Department has had no involvement in ionospheric research and has not carried out or contributed to any assessments or investigations of possible environmental and public health effects. My understanding is that the Scientific and Technological Assessment Panel do not currently have a study on this topic.
Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will change the definition of affordable housing used in planning guidance to ensure that all affordable housing planning policies (a) are consistent between local authorities and (b) enable local authorities to provide benefits and discounts in perpetuity. 
Ms Beverley Hughes: Planning Policy Guidance note 3: "Housing" and Circular 6/98 "Planning and Affordable Housing" provide detailed guidance to local planning authorities on formulating development plan policies on affordable housing. While planning policy should not be expressed in favour of any particular form of tenure, the particular amount and type of affordable housing to be provided in individual developments will be for the local authority to decide based on their own assessment of local needs, and in negotiation with
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developers. Planning obligations may be used to ensure that affordable housing provided through planning policy is secured, either initially or in perpetuity, for occupation by people in need of such housing. We have no plans at present to revise the guidance.
Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (1) what measures his Department has taken to assist the introduction of barriers to reduce traffic noise; 
Mr. Hill: One of the main methods of mitigating and attenuating traffic noise is to reduce the noise emitted by new vehicles. The Department has a continuing involvement in negotiating EU directives in this area. These measures have already delivered a substantial reduction in noise levels from new vehicles. A large lorry today makes no more noise than a car of the early 1970s and three modern cars now make less noise than one 1970s model. These measures will bring improvements as the vehicle fleet is renewed. Negotiations on further noise reduction are likely to focus on heavy vehicles such as trucks and buses.
In addition the Department has recently been involved in negotiating an EU directive to limit tyre noise, the dominant source of noise from traffic at speeds above 40 miles per hour. This directive is expected to be adopted shortly.
£5 million a year ring-fenced budget is being spent to mitigate and attenuate noise, primarily using barriers, at locations on the national network where detailed studies have confirmed the severity of the problem and shown that barriers are the most effective solution in the short term. As indicated in my reply to my hon. Friend on 6 December 1999, Official Report, column 427W, studies have been commissioned at a large number of locations. The Highways Agency will be dealing with nearly all of these locations over the next few years. In a number of cases where the road has been reassessed for resurfacing, the use of quieter materials has affected the priority for other measures.
Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will list by area those schemes assisted by his Department to introduce noise barriers for traffic, stating his Department's financial contribution in each case. 
Mr. Hill: I refer my hon. Friend to my answer of 11 November 1999, Official Report, column 681W, which included a letter from the then Chief Executive, Mr. Lawrie Haynes, to my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Mr. Shaw). The Department will bear the whole cost of the works that it considers necessary.
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Mr. Hill: An Integrated Transport White Paper explained that we need to gain a better understanding of the effects of transport noise and expect advances in technology to provide some reductions in the impact of noise from road traffic. It is for local authorities to decide what further measures would be appropriate on their roads. My policies as highway authority for the strategic national road network were set out in "A New Deal for Trunk Roads" which was published along with the White Paper in July 1998. This states that quieter surfaces are to be used for all new trunk road schemes and resurfacing existing roads in an area where noise was a matter of concern. The Ten Year Plan for Transport, published in July, should enable the Highways Agency to install by 2011 quieter surfaces on over 60 per cent. of the national road network including all concrete stretches. In addition, funds are to be ring-fenced to permit the Highways Agency to provide over the next ten years other measures such as noise barriers in some of the worst and most pressing cases where there is no immediate need for the road to be resurfaced.
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