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Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what steps he intends to take to ensure that the rights of third parties under planning legislation are compatible with Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights. 
Ms Keeble: We do not consider that there is any need to make changes to planning legislation as it affects third parties as a result of the Human Rights Act 1998 (which incorporates provisions from the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law).
Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what guidance has been issued to local authority planning offices regarding the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights. 
Ms Keeble: The Department has not issued guidance. The Government's Human Rights Task Force issued core guidance on the Act for public authorities (including local authorities). In addition, the Local Government Association has produced a pocket guide "Acting on rights: a guide to the Human Rights Act", and a booklet "Deciding rights: applying the HRA to good practice in Local Authority decision making". The latter includes a fact sheet on Human Rights and planning.
Dr. Whitehead: My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister announced on 2 July that the Government intend to publish a White Paper on regional governance in England which will set out the Government's proposals for taking forward elected assemblies, where people want them.
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Mr. Collins: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if he will make a statement on the Government's policy on the proposed A590 bypass at High and Low Newton. 
Mr. Jamieson: The proposed A590 bypass was identified as a priority for delivery by 2007 in the North West's Draft Regional Planning Guidance, published in July 2000. The Secretary of State is currently considering the Panel Report from the Public Examination of the draft. It is planned to publish proposed changes this winter, with a view to issuing the final version in spring/summer 2002.
Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if he will list the level of Government financial support given to Railtrack in each year since its inception. 
Mr. Jamieson: In 199495 and 199596, when Railtrack was still in the public sector, grants of £32 million and £34 million were paid to the company towards the cost of maintaining level crossings. Since its privatisation in 1996, the company has recovered that cost and other costs through access charges paid to it by train operating companies (TOCs) and others. So, although no public money was paid direct to Railtrack between 199697 and 200001, the company's profitability in those years was contingent on public money. Some 85 per cent. of its income is paid to it in access charges by TOCs, most of which are supported by public money.
In future Railtrack, or its successor body, will continue to receive income from TOCs, the large majority of which will continue to receive subsidy from the SRA. In addition, in accordance with the terms of Railtrack's 2 April agreement with Government, Railtrack received £337 million of network grant on 1 October 2001; and, when requested by the administrators, it will receive £162 million of network grant in respect of the (October 2000) final conclusions of the Rail Regulator's periodic review of access charges.
Mr. Jamieson: The British Rail Property Board became Rail Property Ltd. in July 1997. It is now a subsidiary company of the Strategic Rail Authority. It has commercial dealings with Railtrack from time to time.
Mr. Hoban: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what representations he made to the directors of (a) Railtrack Group plc and (b) Railtrack plc in connection with the financial statements for the year ended 31 March. 
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Mr. Jamieson: The identity of the directors of the proposed company has yet to be determined. Initially, the Strategic Rail Authority, in consultation with rail industry stakeholders and existing senior management of the company, would appoint directors. Membersa large majority of whom would be from the private sectorwould be invited to confirm these initial appointments at a special general meeting. Subsequent board appointments would be decided by the board itself. Members would have the power to remove directors and would therefore have an effective right of veto. We anticipate this process would produce a highly competent board, representative of the interests of railway industry stakeholders.
Mr. Hoban: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what financial guarantees will be given in respect to debt finance obtained by the successor company to Railtrack plc. 
Mr. Jamieson: The Government have proposed a private sector Company Limited by Guarantee to succeed Railtrack and intend to agree a transfer scheme with the Railway Administrators. We plan to structure this new company so that it would achieve at least a BBB investment grade credit rating as the basis to raise debt finance.
The new company would be entitled to receive track access payments from train operators along with the network grants from the SRA agreed as part of the Rail Regulator's October 2000 Periodic Review and the 2 April agreement between Railtrack and Government. These sources of income would be available to help achieve at least the BBB credit rating.
Mr. Hoban: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what events occurred subsequent to 3 July which required him to review the ownership and structure of the railway industry. 
Mr. Jamieson: I refer the hon. Member to the statement made to the House by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions on 15 October 2001, Official Report, column 954.
Mr. Hoban: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if he will publish the legal advice he received concerning the use of section 59 of the Railways Act 1993. 
Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if he will estimate the number of appeals his Department has received following its recent revaluation of the business rate. 
Dr. Whitehead: The Valuation Office Agency (VOA), an executive agency of Inland Revenue, is responsible for compiling and maintaining the non-domestic rating lists. The most recent revaluation took place on 1 April 2000. At 30 September 2001, VOA had received a total of 798,000 appeals against the rateable values shown in the new rating lists on 1 April 2000.
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This figure includes 632,000 appeals made to challenge the initial valuations made by the VOA at the time of the revaluation on 1 April 2000, and 166,000 made on the grounds that the valuation has been affected by a change in circumstances that has occurred since that date.
Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if he will make a statement on current procedures with regard to the appeals process for business rates with specific reference to the periods for any underpayment of rates. 
Dr. Whitehead: Appeals against rateable values shown in the rating lists can be made at any time before a new rating list comes into force, by sending them to the local Valuation Officer of the Valuation Office Agency, an executive agency of Inland Revenue. The next revaluation is scheduled to come into force on 1 April 2005. Appeals are automatically sent to the independent Valuation Tribunal, if they are not settled by agreement between the ratepayer and the Valuation Officer.
Where an appeal is made, the ratepayer must continue to comply with the payment schedule as set out in the original demand notice from the local authority. Payments may only be altered following the settlement of an appeal and following the issue of a revised bill by the local authority, or with the formal agreement of the billing authority. Where an appeal leads to a reduction in the amount due to be paid, any previous overpayment is refunded to the ratepayer with interest.
In general, the effect of any appeal leading to a change in rateable value will be backdated either to the date that the change in value occurred, or the first day of the financial year in which the appeal was made, whichever is the later.
However, in the following cases, changes in rateable value arising from an appeal will take effect from either the date that the change in value occurred or the day that the rating list came into force, whichever is the later:
Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if he will make a statement on the operation of rates relief for businesses affected by foot and mouth, with specific reference to (a) the Valuation Office and (b) individual local authorities. 
Dr. Whitehead: Local authorities have discretion to provide rate relief of up to 100 per cent. to any ratepayers suffering hardship for any reason, under Section 49 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988. Usually, 75 per cent. of the cost of any such relief is centrally funded, with local authorities funding the remaining 25 per cent., to reflect the benefit to the local community of granting the relief.
Under Special Grant Reports 80 and 86, approved by Parliament on 2 April and 17 July 2001, the Government increased to 95 per cent. their contribution towards the cost to English rural local authorities of granting this relief to small businesses suffering hardship as a result of the foot and mouth outbreak. Guidance on the general
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operation of these arrangements was provided to local authorities in appendix (ii) to Special Grant Report No. 80.
This increased level of funding applies in respect of properties with rateable values of up to £12,000 in 151 English rural local authorities, and up to £50,000 in 37 of these authorities that are located in the worst affected areas, for a period of nine months from 1 April 2001. The level of Government support also increases to 98 per cent. in total where the net cost to the authority would otherwise exceed 0.4 per cent. of the authority's net budget requirement for 200102.
Special Grant Report No. 86 requires local authorities to submit claims for the grant by 31 March 2002. Those claims will provide information on the amount given in relief. Meanwhile, information provided by the Local Government Association shows that 117 English local authorities have received over 6,500 applications for hardship rate relief related to the foot and mouth outbreak.
The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) is responsible for setting rateable values, but has no role in administering rate relief. Ratepayers who believe that the rateable value of their properties has been adversely affected by the foot and mouth outbreak can appeal to the VOA for a reduction in rateable value. Around 72,000 such appeals have now been received in England. The VOA is now giving priority to settling appeals from businesses that have been worst affected by the outbreak.
The Government also extended by three months to 30 June 2001 the deadline for all appeals relating to properties in the 151 rural authority areas. This allowed any changes to rateable values arising from foot and mouth related appeals made before that date to have effect from the date the outbreak affected the property, instead of being limited to 1 April 2001. It also allowed the effect of other appeals made in these areas up to 30 June 2001 to be backdated to 1 October 2000, or the date of any change to the property giving rise to the change in value, whichever is the later. The effect of appeals made on or after 1 July 2001 in these areas will be backdated to 1 April 2001, or the date of any change to the property giving rise to the change in value, whichever is the later.
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