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16. Mr. Beith: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what steps he has taken to enable the creation of regional assemblies in those regions where there is known to be support for their creation. 
Ms Armstrong: We remain committed to move to directly elected regional government, where there is support as demonstrated in referendums. As steps in this direction, we have supported the development of a stronger role for the regions, through the work of the chambers, regional development agencies and Government offices, and we are encouraging the regions to take forward the debate on governance.
17. Mr. Campbell-Savours: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when he next intends to meet officials of the North- West development agency to discuss its activities in Cumbria. 
Mr. Prescott: I met with the north west development agency on the 26 January to discuss the agency's activities in Cumbria and my hon. Friend's objections. Considerable time was spent in discussion of the location of the regional and sub-regional offices. The north-west development agency assured me that as well as having a sub-regional office (in Penrith), they will maintain a presence in West Cumbria.
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18. Mr. Ian Bruce: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what estimate he has made of the earliest date by which the Weymouth-Dorchester relief road could be built; and on the basis of that timetable, on what date central Government finance for this project will start. 
Mr. Hill: The Weymouth relief road was provisionally accepted for funding in its current form subject to successful completion of planning and statutory procedures. The Government will be discussing with the promoters the suitability of the scheme for procurement under the private finance initiative.
19. Mr. Sedgemore: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make a statement on the policies his Department has pursued to address the problems faced by disadvantaged communities. 
Ms Armstrong: The Government's policies for tackling the problems faced by these communities are set out in "A New Commitment to Neighbourhood Renewal" about which I made a Statement on 15 January, 2001 Official Report, columns 27 to 30 when it was published. This action plan, to be implemented by the whole of Whitehall, overseen by the new neighbourhood renewal unit, aims to narrow the gap between deprived areas and the rest of the country so that in 10-20 years no one should be seriously disadvantaged by where they live.
20. Mr. Stunell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what steps he has taken to speed up planning decisions on proposed renewable energy installations. 
Ms Beverley Hughes: We have set in hand the preparation of regional renewable energy assessments and targets to provide the framework for more positive and strategic planning for renewable energy development at regional and local levels. This in turn will feed through to planning decisions on individual renewable energy projects.
21. Mr. Wilkinson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when he expects the public-private partnership for the modernisation of the London Underground to take effect. 
Mr. Hill: My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister announced earlier this month that he had reached agreement with the Commissioner of Transport for London, Bob Kiley, that we will work together and with London Underground on modifications to the public- private partnership. If we can agree mutually acceptable changes, the PPP bidders will be asked to submit revised proposals.
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22. Mr. White: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what support the South East England development agency has given to the local economy of the south-east. 
23. Mr. Derek Twigg: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions how many areas in the north-west of England are benefiting from the neighbourhood renewal fund. 
Ms Beverley Hughes: The Government are providing £900 million over the next three years through the neighbourhood renewal fund to improve services in the most deprived areas. Twenty-one local authorities in the north-west of England will benefit from this fund.
Mr. Raynsford: The Government develop housing policy through consultation, research and analysis. In December we published "The Way Forward for Housing", which sets out our policies to meet our objective to give everyone the opportunity of a decent home. This followed up a successful consultation on the housing Green Paper, widely recognised as the most comprehensive review of housing policy in a generation.
Mr. Robert Ainsworth: The Government's aim is to ensure that everyone has a decent home. Last December, we published our "Housing Policy Statement: The Way Forward for Housing". This set out our plans for achieving this, including the introduction of the "Starter Home Initiative", designed to help key workers in areas of high housing cost such as the south-east. The recently published revised regional planning guidance for the south-east recognises the importance of affordable housing. These issues are highlighted in the regional housing statement, together with the role housing investment can play in regeneration and sustaining rural communities.
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Mr. Robert Ainsworth: Since June 1998, all bilateral partners with whom we did not already have liberal air services agreements have been offered unrestricted access to all UK regional airports, so long as UK airlines are also allowed to operate on the same routes. In addition, whenever possible we explain the opportunities available at regional airports during air services negotiations.
Mr. Hill: GoVia will invest up to £20 million over a period of up to 20 years as the preferred counterparty for the new replacement South Central franchise. East Sussex will benefit from electrification between Uckfield and Hurst Green and Ashford and Hastings, new rolling stock and station refurbishment including platform extensions.
27. Mrs. Brinton: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make a statement on the effects of rising traffic levels on the Government's sustainable development strategy. 
Mr. Meacher: In "Achieving a better quality of life" (January 2001), our first annual report on progress by the country as a whole towards sustainable development, we noted that road traffic levels continued on a rising trend. Road traffic has been rising steadily since the 1950s. In recent decades that growth has been closely associated with the underlying rate of economic growth.
A key objective of policy is to break that link, improving access for people and goods while reducing traffic growth and tackling the impacts of congestion and pollution. Our 10-year plan for transport includes a wide range of measures aimed at achieving these objectives.
The most recent provisional traffic figures, published last week, show that in 2000 road traffic grew by 0.7 per cent. (after adjustment for the effects of fuel shortages in the autumn). This was the lowest increase in traffic for many years, and occurred despite economic growth of 3.2 per cent. during the year.
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