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Single Regeneration Budget

Mr. George Howarth: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what monitoring system his Department has in place to ensure that single regeneration budget programmes are delivered in line with the objectives set in the original bids; and if he will make a statement. [2124]

Ms Keeble: My Department's monitoring system requires Single Regeneration Budget (SRB) Partnerships to set out the objectives of their bids in annual Delivery Plans. The Regional Development Offices (RDAs) monitor Partnerships' progress in delivering their schemes, normally each quarter, against Key Indicators of Performance which are recorded in Delivery Plans. The RDAs also undertake periodic reviews of SRB Schemes to assess overall progress.

In their recent Corporate/Business Plans, RDAs set out regional priorities and activities and key outputs for the SRB in 2001–02. They will report on achievements in their 2002–03 Plans.

Informal Public Spaces

Mr. George Howarth: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what his policy is towards land used as informal open public space being developed for housing purposes; and if he will make a statement. [2119]

Ms Keeble: The Government's policy is set out in the draft revision of Planning Policy Guidance Note (PPG) 17—Sport, Open Space, and Recreation. This makes

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it clear that existing open space should not be developed for housing or other forms of built development in urban areas, unless the planning authority's assessments undertaken in accordance with guidance in PPG17 shows the land to be clearly surplus to requirements.

Surplus Farmland

Mr. George Howarth: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what estimate he has made of the hectarage of farmland which is surplus to agricultural requirements but cannot be used for any alternative purpose due to (a) local plans and (b) greenbelt zoning. [2130]

Ms Keeble: Consideration of whether to grant planning permission for the alternative use of agricultural land is a matter in the first instance for local planning authorities taking into account their development plan policies and national guidance. National planning policy for the countryside is contained in Planning Policy Guidance Note (PPG) 7: The Countryside—Environmental Quality and Economic and Social Development. PPG7 was recently amended to encourage local planning authorities to be more supportive of farm diversification projects that are consistent in their scale with their rural location.

PPG2 sets out national planning policies for green belts and identifies those uses of land within green belts that may be appropriate.

Election Turnout

Mr. Love: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (1) what studies he is undertaking into the turnouts for elections in different countries and the reasons behind the differences in turnouts; and if he will make a statement; [1694]

Dr. Whitehead: No research has been commissioned or undertaken to investigate the costs and benefits of introducing compulsory voting nor into turnouts for elections in other countries. As to the low turnout in the recent general election, the Electoral Commission is undertaking a review of the conduct of that election. The Government will give careful consideration to the findings once the report is presented to Parliament.

Disability Discrimination Act

Diana Organ: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions for what reasons airlines and air carriers are exempted from the terms of the Disability Discrimination Act 1996; and what plans he has to bring them within the terms of the Act. [1806]

Ms Keeble: As travel by air is a predominantly international mode of transport, it was considered more appropriate to develop standards at international level for access to air travel for disabled people.

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My Department was closely involved, both through the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC), in drawing up the relevant advice for the aviation industry. We have more recently been working with the UK industry—airlines, airports and travel agents—and with our disability advisers, the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, to draw up a voluntary code of practice for the industry on meeting the needs of disabled passengers. The draft Code on which we have been consulting over the last few months draws on the work of ICAO and ECAC. We hope to publish the final version later this year.

In responding to the Disability Rights Task Force report we also announced our intention to take a reserve regulation making power, when a suitable legislative opportunity arises, which could be used to give the Code statutory force if voluntary compliance proves ineffective.

In addition, European airline and airport associations have recently agreed to commend a series of voluntary commitments on passenger rights to their respective members. Both the airline commitments and the airport commitments contain undertakings about the treatment of passengers with reduced mobility. We expect all major UK airlines and airports to adopt the relevant commitments, which will take effect from February 2002. Our Code of Practice will complement those commitments.

Planning Inquiries

Llew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if he will make a statement on the changes he intends to make in the planning inquiry system; and what consultations his Department has had with non-governmental organisations on planning arrangements. [1769]

Ms Keeble: We introduced new rules for streamlining planning inquiries last August. We are monitoring the operation of the procedures.

Separately, we have consulted on proposals to streamline the processing of major projects through the planning system. The proposals include measures to improve the procedures for public inquiries into major projects. Of the 127 responses to the consultation, 71 were from non-governmental organisations. We shall announce how we intend to proceed as soon as practicable.

Transport Infrastructure

Llew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if he will make a statement on the role of transport infrastructure in delivery of regeneration policies. [1767]

Ms Keeble: Development of transport infrastructure can have an important role to play in delivering regeneration. English Regional Planning Bodies are required by Planning Policy Guidance Note 11 to produce regional transport strategies to reflect the economic and regeneration needs of the region. Transport and regeneration (with the exception of some rail issues) in Wales are matters for the Welsh Assembly.

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Civil Servants

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions how many civil servants were employed by (a) the Department of the Environment and (b) the Department of Transport in April 1997. [1803]

Dr. Whitehead: At 1 April 1997 the Department of the Environment (Central) employed 3,180 staff and the Department of Transport (Central) employed 1,777 staff. Both figures are expressed as full-time equivalents with part-time staff counted as a proportion of net conditioned hours worked.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest

Llew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what plans he has to modify the planning system in respect of protection of sites of special scientific interest. [1772]

Ms Keeble: The Government are committed to ensuring that sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) receive a high level of protection through the planning system. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 included new and enhanced powers to improve the protection and management of SSSIs. We also intend to issue a revision of Planning Policy Guidance Note 9 (Nature Conservation) later this year for public consultation. In Wales, these matters are the responsibility of the National Assembly for Wales.

Noise Pollution

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if he will make a statement on his Department's response to EU standards on noise pollution, with particular reference to noise abatement for those living close to motorways. [1657]

Mr. Jamieson [holding answer 3 July 2001]: As indicated in the reply of my predecessor's my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill) of 30 October 2000, Official Report, column 306w, the Department has a continuing involvement in negotiating EU Directives in the reduction of noise emitted by new vehicles. These measures have already delivered a substantial reduction in noise levels from new vehicles and these measures will bring improvements as the vehicle fleet is renewed.

The Department was involved in negotiating an EU Directive to limit tyre noise, this being the dominant source of noise from traffic at speeds above 40 mph. The Directive was adopted very recently.

In addition, the 10-Year Plan for Transport, published in July last year, will enable the Highways Agency to install by 2011 quieter surfaces on over 60 per cent. of the national road network including all concrete stretches. The Highways Agency will also provide over the next 10 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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