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Written Answers to Questions
Monday 26 March 2001
ENVIRONMENT, TRANSPORT AND THE REGIONS
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make a statement on light dues. 
I am pleased to announce that the light dues rates will remain the same for 2001-02.
Following four years of stability, the current rates were set in 1997 when charges were reduced by an average of 4.6 per cent. The General Lighthouse Authorities deserve
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credit for their efforts in trying to maximise efficiency while keeping costs down.
We will consult the shipping industry on the current charging regime later this year, to discuss where there can be further savings and improvements.
Local Government Finance
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make a statement on Government policy on competitive bidding for funds by local councils on specific projects; and how much level of public expenditure was allocated to such arrangements in (a) 1996-97 and (b) 2000-01. 
The vast majority of Government support to local authorities is provided as general support. Competitive bidding for funds can play a part in bringing forward local proposals for specific projects. Figures for that part of Government support allocated by competitive bidding, as opposed to provision through a standard allocation process, on specific projects for which local authorities are able to bid, are given in the table.
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|Education Standards Fund||46||78
|New Deal for Schools capital(3)||--||450
|New Deal for Communities(3)||--||120
|Air Quality and Smoke Control Supplementary Credit Approvals||3||3
|Crime Fighting Fund and schools intervention(3)||--||48
|PFI credits for joined up schemes(3)||--||30
|Invest to Save Budget(3)||--||39
|Capital Modernisation Fund(3)||--||340
|European Structural Funds(4)||116||212
|Single Regeneration Budget (Challenge Fund)/SRB(5)||265||814
|DCMS/Wolfson Public Libraries Challenge Fund(3)||--||2
|Combined Conservation Area Partnership Schemes and Heritage Economic Regeneration Scheme||12||5
|Innovative transport project(3)||--||1
|Rural Bus Challenge(3)||--||20
(1) Actual outturn
(3) Programmes did not exist in 1996-97
(4) Outturn for both years
(5) In the SRB, local regeneration partnerships, which normally include local authority partners, were able to bid for resources under individual bidding rounds (1-6)
(6) Programme ended in 1998.
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In addition £18.5 million has been allocated to fund the development of new and the extension of existing neighbourhood warden schemes.
Explosion (Sandhurst, Gloucestershire)
Mr. Laurence Robertson:
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when he expects to receive the (a) next and (b) final reports from the (i) Environment Agency and (ii) Health and Safety Executive, following the explosion at Sandhurst, Gloucestershire; and if he will make a statement. 
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[holding answer 15 March 2001]: Three reports from the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have been received and placed in the Library of the House:
1. Interim report of the joint investigation by the Agency and HSE under the Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations. The possible contravention of waste management controls is also being covered by this investigation;
2. Final report of the quality assurance review of the Agency's regulatory actions; and
3. Final report of the review carried out by HSE as part of its major incident handling.
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The final report of the joint investigation (Report One) will be split into two parts. Part 1 will report on the COMAH investigation into the cause of the fire and will be submitted to the European Commission by 12 April. It will not include decisions on prosecution. Part 2 will report on the Agency's and HSE's views on liability and prosecution of the operator. In the light of Counsel's advice, the Agency advise that they now expect Part 2 to be completed and submitted to Ministers by late summer. A progress report, providing an indication of possible breaches of the waste controls, will be submitted to Ministers by 30 April.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what the specifications for use are of (a) corrugated steel crash barriers and (b) concrete crash barriers on (i) motorways and (ii) trunk roads; and what criteria were used in determining the specifications. 
I have asked the Chief Executive of the Highways Agency, Tim Matthews, to write to the hon. Member.
Letter from John Kerman to Mr. David Amess, dated 26 March 2001:
The Transport Minister, Keith Hill, has asked Tim Matthews, Chief Executive of the Highways Agency to reply to your recent Parliamentary question concerning specifications and criteria for crash barriers. I am replying in the absence of Tim Matthews.
The specifications for corrugated steel and concrete crash barriers are given in the Manual of Contract Documents for Highway Works, Volume 1 Specification for Highway Works. Additional information is given in the Manual of Contract Documents for Highway Works, Volume 3 Highway Construction Details (Section 2). No distinction is made between the use of steel and concrete for normal containment on motorways and trunk roads.
You have also asked what criteria are used in determining their specification. There are two steps used to determine the criteria for the use of safety barriers.
The first step is to consider what level of protection is appropriate for the specific conditions on the road concerned. In most situations this would require a normal containment safety barrier, defined as being able to contain and safely redirect a 1.5 tonne car travelling at 110 kph (70 mph) and impacting at an angle of 20o. This is equivalent to an impact from a family size saloon travelling at the maximum legal speed on a motorway under normal conditions. This is an internationally recognised standard used on many motorways and A class roads throughout Europe.
The second step is to consider the need to refine the general specification to take into account any special roadside features or conditions that might: limit the amount of deflection provided by the barrier; require a higher level of protection; or involve environmental and aesthetic considerations. Guidance on such matters is given in the Highways Agency's design standard TD 19/85 "Safety fences and barriers".
Copies of the documents referred to are held in the House of Commons library.
If you would like any further information about this matter, please contact Brian Hill, in Room 4/30, St Christopher House, Southwark Street, London, SE1 OTE (telephone 020 7921 4936).
Mobile Phone Masts
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what advice he has given local planning authorities on applications to erect mobile phone masts in residential areas. 
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Government planning policy for telecommunications is set out in Planning Policy Guidance note 8 (revised): Telecommunications and the Department's Circular 4-99 "Planning for Telecommunications".
I wrote to Council leaders in June 2000 to explain the action the Government had in hand to take forward the planning recommendations of the Stewart report ("Mobile Phones and Health") published in May 2000. This letter said that the Stewart report had concluded that
"the balance of evidence indicates that there is no general risk to the health of people living near to base stations on the basis that exposures are expected to be small fractions of the guidelines. However, there can be indirect adverse effects on their well-being in some cases".
Gaps in scientific knowledge led the Stewart report to recommend a precautionary approach comprising a series of specific measures. The report did not recommend a ban on masts in schools, hospitals or residential areas. The Government accepted the recommended precautionary approach and are taking forward a range of precautionary actions.
In response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela Smith), I announced on 16 March 2001, Official Report,
columns 748-51W, a series of important changes to the planning system for telecommunications masts which the Government intend to make. These will significantly strengthen the current arrangements. On that day, I wrote to the Leaders of all Councils in England to advise them of the proposed changes. Copies of the letter were sent to Chief Planning Officers. I also wrote in similar terms to all hon. Members for constituencies in England.