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The Minister for Energy and Construction (Mr. Brian Wilson): I have today decided to grant consent under section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 to Marchwood Power Ltd for the construction of a 860 gas-fired power station at Marchwood in Hampshire. The station has also today been given clearance as a gas-fired station under section 14 of the Energy Act 1976 and planning permission for the station has been deemed to be granted subject to 50 conditions agreed with the New Forest District Council and the Hampshire County Council.
The Minister for Rural Affairs (Alun Michael): I am pleased to announce that on 16 November The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (Commencement No.2) Order 2002 (S.I. 2002/2833)(C.89), was made bringing into force the rights of way improvement planning provisions in sections 60 to 62 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 on 21 November 2002. We are now publishing the guidance to local highway authorities on planning improvements to their rights of way network, which takes account of responses to the consultation paper that we issued at the end of last year. The guidance is being sent out to all local authorities in England.
The guidance clarifies the new duty on local authorities to make a strategic and forward-looking assessment of their rights of way network, thinking about how any shortcomings might be overcome by making use of the powers they already have. This new
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approach will be of particular use in those areas that are tourist destinations, where the local economy is heavily dependent on the income that visitors bring. However, last year's foot-and-mouth outbreak showed just how important public rights of way are to rural businesses and communities generally.
Access is also important to local people. Expanding our public rights of way network and improving access brings great health benefits. The changes don't have to be major. Sometimes the creation of a short connecting path is all that is necessary to provide a useful local cut through, to provide access to a local beauty spot, or to make the final link in a circular walk.
Nor is it just about walkers. The rights of way network also provides access to the countryside for other types of users, and the planning process should look at how well they are catered for. One major aim is to increase provision for horse riders, carriage drivers and cyclists. We also want to increase access for those who cannot easily use all the current paths, particularly those with mobility problems and the blind or partially sighted.
Some local authorities do an excellent job of maintaining and promoting their local footpaths but I know that there is concern that some local authorities fail to fulfil their existing duties and may be slow to plan for and implement their rights of way improvements. There are a number of ways in which we are trying to address these issues.
First, we have given local authorities extra resources for the new obligations under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2002 and I wrote to every local authority in England to remind them that the resources are there in the local government support grant. It is for local authorities to achieve the intended outcome.
Secondly, we are sponsoring the Countryside Agency to work with eight authorities, one from each region of England, to provide exemplar planning between October 2002 and October 2003. This will help to develop good practice and the lessons learned will be disseminated to other authorities at regular intervals. It is intended that this exemplar planning will demonstrate the value of planning to improve the network for people of all levels of interest, ability and experience.
Finally, we want to achieve the long-term sustainability of the network while reducing the number of separate planning requirements. This is in line with the Government's wish to give local authorities additional freedoms and flexibilities. Rights of way improvement planning will therefore be incorporated into the local transport planning process from 2005 onwards, when the next 5-year Local Transport Plans are due to be produced. In this way we intend to ensure that the full importance of the rights of way is stressed in the light of the contribution it can make to transport, recreation and health. This will encourage a focused and joined up approach by local authorities. It is envisaged that rights of way improvement planning will be a distinct strand within the new Local Transport Plans. The revised Guidance on Full Local Transport Plans (planned for 2004) will cover this point.
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In the meantime, local highway authorities should use the new guidance, being published tomorrow, to plan effective improvements to their rights of way network in line with their new duty. Under the provisions of section 60 to 62 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, local highway authorities are required by law to prepare the first rights of way improvement plans within five years. We suggest that local highway authorities prepare them earlier than this if possible. Indeed, it is encouraging to know that many authorities have already started on the planning process. This work will make a positive difference and will be every bit as valid after rights of way improvement planning is incorporated into the local transport planning process
A copy of the commencement order and statutory guidance have been placed in the House of Commons Library. . Further information can be found on the Department's website at http://www.defra.gov.uk/wildlife-countryside/index.htm. A copy of the summary of the responses to the consultation exercise earlier this year is also on the website.
The Minister for Rural Affairs (Alun Michael): I am pleased to announce that we have decided that the new right for the public to walk on mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land will be rolled out on a region by region basis. We are convinced that the best approach is to give walkers the right to walk in open countryside and on registered common land as early as possible. Rather than wait for the mapping process to be completed for the whole country, I intend to open up land in the first two regions, the South East and Central Southern England, to public access during the summer of 2004.
This is a demanding timetable which requires conclusive maps for those regions to be available, restrictions on access and necessary exclusions to be in place and guidance and codes of practice to be available to walkers and landowners. It is most important that all these mechanisms are in force in each region before any access land is made available to the public to ensure that the interests of both land managers and walkers are safeguarded. We expect all access land to be opened not later than the end of 2005.
Opening some access land more than a year earlier than originally planned shows our commitment to making the provisions of Part 1 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 a reality. Because of that Act, people will be able to walk on land in some of the most beautiful areas of the countryside that were previously off-limits and rural businesses in those areas will benefit from new trading opportunities.
In bringing the new right of access into force, we have maintained a careful balance between the rights of walkers and the rights of land managers. It does not affect land managers' discretion to use or develop land as they think best, taking into account other regulations governing changes of land use. In the vast majority of cases it is likely to have very little impact on operational practices. Owners and occupiers will be able to close their land for up to 28 days each year for any reason, and to seek further restrictions or exclusions of access where necessary.
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The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' first autumn Performance Report was published on 27 November 2002. This report is a new requirement under the revised framework for Departments to report on progress towards their Public Service Agreement targets. Copies of the report have been placed in the House of Commons Library.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): I am pleased to inform the House, that I have appointed three new non-executive members to the board of the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA).
These new appointments will greatly strengthen the board by bringing particular skills and understanding of the interface between Government and industry; consumer issues and perspectives, and financial management. My decision to appoint Janet Lewis-Jones was taken after consultation with the National Assembly for Wales in accordance with sections 202 (3) and 202 (5) of the Transport Act 2000. She is Welsh, lives in Wales and is therefore familiar with the special requirements and circumstances of Wales in relation to the railways.
|Board Member||Expiry Date of Current Appointment|
|Richard Bowker (Chair & Chief Exec.)||November 2006|
|David Quarmby (Deputy Chair)||November 2004|
|Lew Adams OBE||November 2004|
|Urmila Banerjee CBE||November 2006|
|David Begg||April 2005|
|Willie Gallagher||April 2005|
|David Grayson||April 2005|
|Pen Kent||November 2004|
|Janet Lewis-Jones||November 2006|
|Jeremy Mayhew||April 2005|
|David Norgrove||November 2006|
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