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Local Government Finance

Mrs. Gilroy: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if the

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Government plans to implement the proposed reform of the local authority capital finance system set out in the Green Paper, "Modernising Local government Finances"; and if he will make a statement. [155121]

Ms Armstrong: Consultees have overwhelmingly endorsed our proposals to abolish the present system of local authority capital controls and replace it with the prudential system described in the Green Paper. Legislation will be introduced as soon as parliamentary time allows. The new system will rely heavily on professional regulation and my Department has agreed to provide financial support to the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy who will draft the

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necessary professional Code. Work on that and on other detailed development of the system will be taken forward immediately.

Under the new system local authorities will be free to invest in their communities without having to get permission each time from central Government. The consultation confirmed our view that the proposed safeguards in the system will ensure that authorities do not run up unsustainable levels of debt, and that the increased flexibility will allow them to deliver better value for money, including through partnership working.

East Midlands (Planning)

Mr. Sawford: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will publish his response to the recommendations of the independent panel that conducted the public examination of the draft regional planning guidance for the east Midlands; and if he will make a statement. [155260]

Mr. Raynsford: My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has today published for consultation proposed changes to the draft Regional Planning Guidance for the east Midlands. These are largely based on the recommendations of the independent panel that held a public examination into draft RPG last summer.

In October 2000 my right hon. Friend published new guidance on regional planning in Planning Policy Guidance (PPG) Note 11. This followed the announcement of a new approach to planning for housing provision last March which was taken forward in more detail in revised Planning Policy Guidance Note 3. Important issues for the region to take forward are contained in the Urban and Rural White Papers issued last November. The proposed changes to the draft RPG for the east Midlands reflect the principles and priorities set out in these statements. They aim to support economic growth and regeneration while protecting and enhancing the region's environment.

For housing, the regional allocation and those for each structure plan area are now expressed as annual averages to reflect the requirements in PPG3 and PPG11 for annual bench marks, rather than a fixed total. Adjustments can then be made regularly as required by the "plan monitor and manage" approach. The regional allocation of 13,900 a year should meet expected needs. We are proposing a small reduction for Lincolnshire of 200 a year over the draft to discourage long distance commuting across the regional boundary into East Anglia and reduce the pressure for developing greenfield sites.

We agree with the panel's recommendation that 60 per cent. of housing completions should be on previously developed land by 2008. The regional planning body will be invited to develop sub regional targets to allow for variations in local circumstances while still aiming for 60 per cent. at the regional level. We propose to adopt the panel's recommended annual rate of 3,400 dwellings a year as an appropriate indicator for monitoring whether affordable housing need is being met.

The panel considered that a new business park near to the East Midlands Airport and Junction 24 (M1) in addition to the existing commitments for business development there, could undermine regeneration of nearby urban areas, in particular Nottingham, Derby and

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Leicester. We agree with the panel, as we are not persuaded that sufficient limitations on occupation are possible through the planning system to avoid harmful displacement of economic activity from those urban areas.

Draft RPG proposed designating two major investment sites (sites of at least 50has and capable of being safeguarded for a single user). We propose to adopt the panel recommendation that no new greenfield sites should be promoted for this purpose until a comprehensive analysis has been carried out of the quantity and quality of the existing supply of employment land.

We make it clear that there should be no variation across the region in the systematic approach to selecting sites for development so as not to damage the credibility of the RPG and to maintain consistency with the sustainable development objectives of national policy. We agree that the coalfields are a priority for regeneration. The outcome of applying a systematic approach to the selection of sites might be that some greenfield development would occur, but only if that is the most sustainable option in the context of local circumstances and the priority for employment development.

We agree with the panel that car parking standards should be consistent with those in Draft PPG13, and should be applied across the region to all new employment development but above certain thresholds.

The consultation period on the proposed changes will be for 12 weeks ending on 15 June. Views are invited and should be made to the Government Office for the east Midlands. Copies of all the relevant documents have been placed in the House Library and made available to the region's MPs.

Sports Planning

Ms Rosie Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what advice he has issued about planning for sport, open space and recreation. [155261]

Ms Beverley Hughes: I am today issuing a consultation paper which proposes new, more robust planning policies for sport, open space and recreation. The proposed revision of Planning Policy Guidance note 17: Sport and Recreation (PPG17) follows our commitment in the Urban and Rural White Papers to creating more sustainable communities that offer a better quality of life.

The draft guidance contains key messages that planning authorities must take into account in preparing their plans and in making planning decisions. It advises authorities to:

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It is essential to their quality of life that people have access to open space and a wide range of sporting and recreational facilities. We are proposing a systematic assessment procedure to assist local authorities in determining whether any shortfall in the provision of open space, sports or recreational facilities exists in their areas. This will help them in planning to remedy any deficiencies. The draft guidance reinforces current measures to safeguard existing open space and further protects playing fields, which are vital to the health and well being of our young people, as well as benefiting the wider community.

Copies of the consultation draft of PPG17 have been placed in the Library and Vote Office. It will be sent to local planning authorities, developers, sporting organisations and other interested parties, and responses to the draft guidance are invited by Friday 15 June.

Countryside Planning

Mr. Todd: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what plans he has, following publication of the White Paper "Our Countryside: the Future", to clarify planning policy guidance for the countryside; and if he will make a statement. [155262]

Mr. Raynsford: A competitive and sustainable agricultural industry is vital to the economic, social and environmental well-being of rural areas. The Prime Minister's Action "Plan for Farming" and the White Paper "Our Countryside: the Future" emphasised the Government's desire both for agriculture to be prosperous, forward-looking and sustainable, and to encourage diversification and enterprise. Reform of the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is changing the direction of agriculture and the England Rural Development Programme provides a major switch of CAP funds to support the new approach.

Planning policies for the countryside are set out in Planning Policy Guidance note 7, "The Countryside: Environmental Quality and Economic and Social Development" (PPG7). That guidance is now four-years-old and needs to be clarified in respect of the Government's policy on farm diversification. I am therefore amending the text of the guidance to reflect the importance that the Government attach to effective planning for sustainable farm diversification projects and the re-use of redundant farm buildings.

The first point in paragraph 2.8 of PPG7 is amended as follows:

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Paragraph 3.4 no longer adequately reflects the significant changes now shaping the agricultural industry. I am therefore deleting the current text and replacing it with the following:

Planning guidance relating to the protection of England's best quality agricultural land is also contained in PPG7. The Rural White Paper signalled the Government's intention that decisions about the development or protection of best and most versatile agricultural land (BMV land) should rest with local authorities. Additionally, the Draft Soil Strategy for England, which we published for consultation on 6 March, sets out our wider proposals for protecting and managing our soil resources.

Paragraphs 2.17 and 2.18 of PPG7 are therefore withdrawn and the following paragraphs should be substituted:

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MAFF will continue to provide technical advice to local planning authorities on agricultural land quality issues and other matters relating to agricultural development as described in Annex B to PPG7. My Department expects to issue good practice guidance on methodologies for integrating competing sustainability considerations later this year. In due course the Government expect to repeal the statutory right available to the Minister of Agriculture under section 18(3) and 44(3) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to require the Secretary of State to intervene in development plans to which MAFF have unresolved objections.

My Department will be writing to every planning authority in England to inform them of the clarification of PPG7 set out in this statement and a version of PPG7 which consolidates these and other changes already announced will be posted on the Department's website at: Other planning policy guidance notes and mineral policy guidance notes that refer to PPG7 should be read in conjunction with this statement.

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