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Mr. Jamieson: The local transport capital expenditure settlement announced on 10 December provides #13.9 million for Worcestershire for 200304, including #1 million in respect of the proposed Chadbury-Twyford link road east of the Wyre Piddle bypass. The Wyre Piddle bypass has itself received funding of #5.9 million and is nearing completion. It is for Worcestershire county council as the local highway authority to consider whether the western Wyre Piddle link road is a priority within their local transport plan and for any future transport settlement.
Mr. McNulty: The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is fundamentally overhauling the planning system to make it more effective overall. Proposals for reform were set out in last July's planning policy
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statement XSustainable Communities: delivering through planning", and we introduced into Parliament in December the XPlanning and Compulsory Purchase" Bill. The office of the Deputy Prime Minister will publish early this year how it intends to achieve a step-change in building successful, thriving communities with affordable homes.
Dr. Pugh: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether ministerial guidance to the Boundary Committee acting under the proposed Regional Assemblies Act will allow for the creation of unitary authorities with a population of less than (a) 100,000 and (b) 50,000. 
Mr. Leslie: It will be for the Boundary Committee to decide on the size and number of unitary authorities it recommends in a local government review, having regard to any Guidance issued. The draft of the Guidance, on which the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is currently consulting, indicates that in the Government's view the Boundary Committee will need to consider the impact of size on the organisational and managerial capacity of an authority in the context of the most appropriate unitary authorities for an area being those best able to deliver quality services and effective community leadership.
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Mr. McNulty: Clause 45 of the Local Government Bill, which was introduced into Parliament on 25 November, allows private landlords to make voluntary financial contributions to the business improvement district in their local area.
As we set out in our White Paper Strong Local LeadershipQuality Public Services XProperty Owners have a key role to play in BIDs. But there are significant practical difficulties in extending the levy to property owners, outside the rating system. This would, in effect, be a new tax on property ownership. The Office of the Deputy PrimeMinister therefore intends to build voluntary contributions, already substantial in many existing projects, into the model for BIDs in England. This would be done through the guidance rather than the legislation. This will encourage BID partnershipsto involve property owners from the start so that they can participate in the development and the implementation of BID proposals."
Mr. Paul Marsden: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister pursuant to the answer of 3 December 2002, Official Report, column 702W, if he will place in the Library e-mails containing information given by his officials to the Fire Service Employers since the beginning of 2002 regarding the pay dispute with the Fire Brigades Union. 
Mr. Leslie: The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is withholding this information under exemption 2 (internal Discussion and Advice) of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information on the basis that the release would be prejudicial to ongoing negotiations.
Mr. Carmichael: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what assessment he has made of the likely impact of a reduction in fire personnel during night hours on the number of (a) deaths and (b) injuries resulting from fire. 
Mr. Raynsford: The final report of the Independent Review of the Fire Service puts forward a series of common sense reforms which will lead to a better service, to a safer service, and to a service which saves more lives. These include the recommendation that the service should move to a system of targeted (or risk based) fire cover, based on a careful, professional assessment of the real risk of incidents in the each local area.
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Risk based fire cover is not about cutting fire stations or firefighters. Risk based fire cover is about making sure that local fire service resources-fire engines, fire stations and firefighters-are in the right place at the right time to respond to community fire needs.
The Government will produce a White Paper on the fire service in the spring in order to fulfil our part of the programme of modernisation. The White Paper will set out in detail the legislative and other changes required to modernise the fire service.
Mr. Raynsford: The Fire Cover Review Task Group agreed the text of its final report at the end of September 2002. The Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council was due to consider the report in the autumn, but no meetings were held because of the on-going pay dispute. The Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council is therefore due to consider the report at a future meeting.
Mr. Raynsford: A copy of the draft Report of the Task Group on the Fire Cover Review1also known as the report of the Pathfinder trialswas placed on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's website on 20 December 2002.
Ms Oona King: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will commission research into the concerns raised in the DTLR (Housing Directorate) Action Plan, addressing the needs of BME people, on the impact of the kinds of properties sold under the right to buy on BME families. 
Mr. McNulty: As announced in the Queen's Speech, the Government intend to publish a draft Housing Bill this session. The Bill will make clear our commitment to introduce the mandatory licensing of houses in multiple occupation and to replace the existing housing fitness regime with the evidence-based Housing Health and Safety Rating System. Taken together, these measures will target poor property condition and management standards in the parts of the housing market that accommodate some of the most vulnerable in our society.
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Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what regulations are in place to evaluate (a) the quality of housing need and (b) the house condition assessment provided to councils by consultancies. 
Mr. McNulty: Robust information on housing need and stock condition is essential to the effective delivery of local authorities' housing strategic and landlord roles. The quality of this information is addressed in the annual scrutiny of authorities' housing strategies and housing revenue account business plans carried out by Government offices and will also be covered in some of the Housing Inspectorate's best value inspections. Detailed guidance is available to authorities on issues to be considered in commissioning housing need and stock condition surveys and in the use of the data obtained.
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