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Central Trains

Mr. Paul Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions on how many occasions the Health and Safety Executive has investigated the Central Trains service between Shrewsbury and Birmingham; and if he will make a statement. [101161]

Mr. Hill: The Health and Safety Executive's Railway Inspectorate (HMRI) carries out routine inspection of the activities carried out by Central Trains. This includes the services between Shrewsbury and Birmingham, but HMRI has no record of specific inspections of these services.

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will take steps to ensure that areas of outstanding natural beauty receive central support for their management and conservation. [101208]

Mr. Mullin: The Government have provided the Countryside Agency with an additional £2.5 million this year to be spent on the management and conservation of designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs). That more than doubles the amount previously available. We expect to announce shortly a number of further measures to assist in the conservation and management of AONBs.

Landscape Policy Guidance

Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what recent discussions he has had with the Landscape Institute concerning the possible introduction of landscape policy guidance notes; and if he will make a statement. [101209]

Mr. Mullin: Ministers and officials have various contacts with the Landscape Institute. My hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for housing, planning and construction attended the Landscape Institute awards on 18 November and on 25 November DETR officials met representatives of the Landscape Institute to discuss a number of points of common interest. I am not aware of any discussions concerning the possible introduction of landscape policy guidance notes, although the Institute has advised its intention to update its Guidelines for Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment.

Railtrack (Trespass)

Angela Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (1) what recent guidance he has given to Railtrack regarding trespass on railway lines; [101325]

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Mr. Hill: As an infrastructure controller, Railtrack is required under the Railway Safety (Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations 1997 to take reasonably practicable steps to prevent unauthorised access to its infrastructure. Breaches of this duty are enforced by the Health and Safety Executive's Railway Inspectorate.

The Health and Safety Commission's Railway Industry Advisory Committee (RIAC), of which Railtrack is a member, has been active in promoting industry-wide action against trespass and vandalism. In December last year RIAC produced a booklet "Prevention of Trespass and Vandalism on Railways--A Good Practice Guide" (a copy of which is in the House Library).

The action to be taken following severe disruption to train services following acts of trespass is an operational matter for Railtrack and the train operating companies. However, it is expected that their aim would be to restore normal services as quickly as possible.

Secure Station Status

Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will list the stations which have been awarded Secure Station status. [101496]

Mr. Hill: As at 2 December, there were 28 stations accredited under the Secure Stations Scheme. They are as follows:

Train operatorStation
Chiltern RailwaysMarylebone rail
Connex RailBelvedere
Hither Green
Eurostar (UK)Ashford International
Waterloo International
LTS RailBasildon
Fenchurch Street
London Underground Ltd.Marylebone LUL
Midland MainlineDerby
Leicester
Market Harborough
Railtrack plcCharing Cross rail
Glasgow Central High Level
Kings Cross rail
Manchester Piccadilly
Victoria rail
Silverlink TrainsKew Gardens
South West TrainsKingston
Richmond
Thameslink RailCity Thameslink
Haydons Road
Morden South
South Merton
St. Helier
Sutton Common
Wimbledon Chase
Wales and WestGloucester
Weston-super-Mare

A number of other stations are working towards accreditation.


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Concessionary Fares

Mr. Ben Chapman: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what representations he has received about the concessionary fares scheme in Merseyside; and if he will make a statement. [101693]

Mr. Hill: I have not received any representations about the concessionary fares scheme on Merseyside.

Council Tenants (Freehold)

Mr. Cox: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what plans he has to review the freehold system as it applies to council tenants purchasing their council flat. [101603]

Mr. Mullin: When council tenants buy their flat, they buy a long lease, not the freehold. Leaseholders have the right to purchase the freehold of their block in certain cases. However, the right can only be exercised by a majority of residents. As most council blocks are occupied mainly by secure tenants, rather than leaseholders, many cannot meet this requirement.

The Government last year announced proposals to reform the leasehold system and to introduce commonhold. Commonhold will allow flats to be owned absolutely, but there will be rules to regulate the relations between flat owners to enable proper management of the block as a whole. Leasehold reform will, among other things, make it easier for leaseholders to buy a share of the freehold of their block. However, the right will still require a majority to exercise it.

The Government have taken a number of steps to help those who have bought a council flat, including allowing--and in some cases requiring--landlords to reduce high charges, and giving council and other leaseholders an easier way to challenge unreasonable charges.

Water Companies (Maintenance Services)

Mr. Dobbin: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what is his policy on water companies contracting out their network maintenance services. [101432]

Mr. Mullin: Water undertakers are required to carry out their duties consistent with Sections 37 and 38 of the Water Industry Act 1991. Sewerage undertakers have similar responsibilities under Sections 94 and 95 of the Act. It is for the relevant companies to consider how best to meet these obligations.

The Director General of Water Services publishes an annual "Report on levels of service for the water industry in England and Wales", a copy of which is in the Library of the House.

Rent Acts (Maximum Fair Rent) Order 1999

Mr. Gardiner: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what response

8 Dec 1999 : Column: 553W

he has made to the Court of Appeal decision to allow judicial review of the Rent Acts (Maximum Fair Rent) Order 1999. [101642]

Mr. Mullin: The Secretary of State has appointed Counsel to defend the Government's position at the Court of Appeal hearing on 8 and 9 December. We believe that the Order is within the scope and purpose of the enabling power under section 31 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 and that the Secretary of State did not act unreasonably in deciding to make the Order.

Housing Corporation

Ms Oona King: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions on how many occasions the Housing Corporation has approved a contractual purchase sale on terms better than the statutory terms. [101451]

Mr. Mullin: The Housing Corporation is required under section 9 of the Housing Act 1996 to approve all disposals of properties by Registered Social Landlords. Where the disposals are to tenants of the properties it is the Housing Corporation's policy not to allow disposals on terms better than the statutory terms.

Ms Oona King: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what guidance Ministers have given to the Housing Corporation relating to approval of contractual purchase sales on terms better than the statutory terms. [101450]

Mr. Mullin: My Department has not issued guidance to the Housing Corporation relating to the approval of contractual purchase sales, known as "voluntary sales", on terms better than the statutory terms. The Corporation's consent is required under section 9 of the Housing Act 1996 to disposals and I understand that it is the policy of the Corporation not to grant consents in the case of voluntary sales to tenants on terms which exceed those under the Right to Buy scheme.


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