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15 Oct 2002 : Column 844Wcontinued
Mr. Tony McNulty: The 2002 spending review settlement has provided an extra #1.4 billion for housing. This will help to provide well-designed, affordable homes where they are needed, improve stock conditions in both the social and the private rented sectors, and tackle low demand through significant funds for the pathfinder projects. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister is giving careful consideration to the best use of this additional funding to deliver sustainable communities. My right hon. Friend has said that he will report back to the House at the turn of the year.
Mr. Nick Raynsford: The Regional Governance White Paper, Your Region, Your Choice, published in May, sets out the Government's plans to establish unitary local authorities in place of existing county and district councils in those regions where people vote in a referendum for elected regional assemblies. In any region where the Government decides that a referendum should take place, the Boundary Committee for England will carry out a review and recommend the best unitary arrangements for the two-tier parts of that region. A referendum will then be held to see whether people support the creation of an elected assembly. The new unitary arrangements will be implemented ifbut only ifa majority of those voting in the referendum voted for an elected regional assembly.
Where new unitary arrangements are introduced, we would expect that existing police authorities would remain in place. Appointments to these authorities would be made either by unitary districts or by the unitary county council, depending on the new unitary structure.
There are currently combined fire authorities in former county areas which have only unitary local authorities; and also in areas where there are one or more unitaries, district councils and a county council.
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Where changes lead to district-based unitaries in future, we would expect there to be a combined fire authority, but where they lead to a unitary county with no existing or new district-based unitaries, we would expect the county council to remain responsible for providing fire services. This is without prejudice to our consideration of any recommendations on the organisation of the fire service that Professor Sir George Bain's recently announced review might make.
Waste disposal is currently a responsibility of county councils and would become a responsibility of unitary authorities where these are established in future in regions that have an elected assembly.
Mr. Nick Raynsford: The White Paper Your Region, Your Choice formally invited comments on stakeholder involvement with elected regional assemblies; the closing date for responses was 31 August 2002. But the White Paper also offered the opportunity for general views to be submittedthere is no deadline for these views and comments are still being received.
We are currently undertaking detailed assessments of stakeholder responses, and of general responses to the White Paper. These will be published on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's website later in the year. We
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will then set out our further proposals on stakeholder involvement, taking into account views expressed in the consultation.
It remains the case that we intend to introduce a Bill to provide for referendums and associated local government reviews as soon as Parliamentary time allows, with the aim of enabling the first referendums to be held during this Parliament.
Mr. Nick Raynsford: Information about turnout for those referendums which local authorities hold voluntarily is not held centrally and could only be provided at disproportionate cost. The average turnout in binding referendums which councils held between June 2001 and October 2002 on whether or not their area should have a directly elected mayor was 29 per cent., within a range of 10 per cent. to 64 per cent.
We expect all local authorities to develop housing strategies and to develop local housing need assessments as part of their long-term plans. We believe that judicious use of their planning powers can deliver more affordable housing.