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19 Jan 2004 : Column 1085Wcontinued
Mr. Andrew Mitchell: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether Pedimore, Sutton Coldfield, has been removed as a major investment site for the West Midlands region in accordance with the independent Inspector's report into the Birmingham Urban Development Plan. 
Yvette Cooper: Peddimore is identified as a Major Investment Site in my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister's Proposed Changes to Draft Regional Planning Guidance (RPG) for the West Midlands. The Proposed Changes were subject to a public consultation period, which closed on 12 December 2003.
My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister is now considering responses to the Proposed Changes. He is aware of the Inspector's report on the Birmingham Unitary Development Plan, and this will form part of his consideration. I cannot comment further on the Proposed Changes at this stage.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether Bassetts Pole, Sutton Coldfield, has been removed as a major investment site for the West Midlands region in accordance with the Inspector's report into the Birmingham Urban Development Plan. 
Yvette Cooper: My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister's Proposed Changes to Draft Regional Planning Guidance (RPG) for the West Midlands were prepared before the UDP Inspector's report was published, and state:
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Mr. Raynsford: The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has no plans to change the single persons discount for pensioners. Not all pensioners are on a low income and council tax benefit exists to help those that are. Steps are being taken to ensure that those who are eligible, including many pensioners, do take up their entitlement. We are also removing the current restriction on council tax benefit for those living in band F, G and H homes from next April.
Mr. Waterson: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what plans he has to reduce the number of older people receiving court summonses for non-payment of council tax, with particular reference to cases where they were entitled to full council tax benefit and the only reason for the arrears was the delay in processing their claim. 
Mr. Raynsford: This is a matter for each individual billing authority, but the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister would expect authorities to take account of whether there was a likely entitlement to benefit in considering enforcement action.
Mr. Sanders: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what assessment he has made of the impact of changes to the disabled band council tax reduction on current recipients; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Raynsford: The Government has made no changes to the disabled band reduction. It is for each individual billing authority to decide whether a property qualifies for Disabled Band Reduction when deciding entitlement, taking into account case law. An appeal against a decision can be made to the Valuation Tribunal.
Mr. Raynsford: As at 3 November 2003 local authorities have reported that about 121,000 properties in England were subject to a reduction in their council tax band under the Council Tax (Reductions for Disabilities) Regulations 1992.
Mr. Colman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether the recently announced proposals to free up land for development relate purely to councils blocking applications for housing schemes in conservation areas;
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and whether they apply to single dwelling developments in the curtilage of other single dwellings in conservation areas. 
Yvette Cooper: The recent reports suggesting that my right hon. Friend, the Deputy Prime Minister, was proposing to remove the planning powers of local councils to prevent new building in the countryside are untrue. My right hon. Friend has made no such announcement, and has no such plans.
This press speculation appears to have been based on the draft of a new Planning Policy Statement (PPS7), "Sustainable Development in Rural Areas". The draft was published for public consultation in September 2003 by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. It sets out proposed national planning policies to deliver sustainable rural communities by focussing most new development on towns and villages, and through strict control over new development in the open countryside. Draft PPS7 proposes that local planning authorities should adopt criteria-based policies in development plans for the location and design of rural development, rather than rely on locally designated landscape protection areas. It would remain for local planning authorities in the first instance to determine planning applications, having regard to these and other relevant policies.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what additional money (a) Lancashire and (b) Chorley have received from his Department in each of the last three years, expressed in (i) monetary and (ii) percentage terms, using 200001 as a baseline. 
Mr. Raynsford: Grant issued by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and its predecessor departments for Lancashire and Chorley in the last four years is tabled. Monetary and percentage increases using 200001 as a baseline are also shown:
|£ million||Increase from 200001(£ million)(41)||Percentage increase from 200001(£ million)(45)|
(45) The figures have not been adjusted.
Includes Revenue Support Grant, Redistributed Non-Domestic Rates, Neighbourhood Renewal Fund (from 200102 onwards).
RS forms 200001 to 200203, RG forms 200102 to 200203, RA 200304 form and RA(SG) 200304 form.
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Since 1992, guidance supporting the fire safety aspects of the Building Regulations, which apply to most building work forming new and altered premises in England and Wales, has suggested the provision of sprinkler systems is necessary in commercial and leisure properties over certain area or height thresholds.
This was expanded in 2000 when the guidance was revised to set a limit of 2000m 2 for the size of any fire compartment in a single storey retail building, beyond which a suitable sprinkler system should be provided. This applies to new and extended retail buildings.
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is also nearing the completion of a detailed study into the effectiveness of sprinkler systems in tackling fires in residential properties. The results of this work are being fed into the further development of national standards by the British Standards Institution (BSI) and are forming part of our considerations of the current review of the fire safety aspects of the Building Regulations. The results of that work will shortly be publicly available enabling those involved with fire safety in buildings to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the benefits of residential sprinkler systems. During this review of the Building Regulations we will also be considering the role that sprinklers can play in all buildings and deciding whether the current thresholds in the guidance should be amended or indeed new ones introduced.
In the meantime, our Community Fire Safety programme continues to inform people of the risks associated with fire and the measures which can mitigate against its occurrence and subsequent effect, such as the use of fire detection and alarms and sprinkler systems. This programme has already been effective in reducing fire deaths and injuries from accidental fires.
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