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24 Oct 2005 : Column 22W—continued

Housing Associations

Mr. Andrew Smith: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will publish the value for grant assessments of each housing association produced by the comparator developed by the National Audit Office and the Housing Corporation. [19851]

Yvette Cooper: The Housing Corporation does not yet have all the information necessary to produce the Value for Grant Comparator" fully. It is currently populating the comparator with the limited data it has available and testing it. The corporation expects the comparator to become fully operational from 2006.

Incapacity Benefit

Danny Alexander: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what assessment the Government has made of the (a) regional variations in take-up of incapacity benefit and the (b) implications for regional economic development; and if he will make a statement. [18782]

Yvette Cooper: Within the English regions, there are large regional variations in the take up of incapacity benefit (IB) with 11.2 per cent. of the working age population claiming IB in the North East compared to 4.6 per cent. in the South East. The three northern regions (North East, North West, Yorkshire and Humberside) account for over 860,000 claimants, almost 40 per cent. of the English total, yet their working age population account for just 28 per cent. of the English total. Wales and Scotland also have high proportions of their working age population on incapacity benefit.

High rates of inactivity will undoubtedly affect the economic performance of a region. The Government and its partners in the regions are committed to improving the economic performance of each region, which is why the ODPM, HMT and DTI have a joint Public Service Agreement (PSA) to:

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The Government is similarly also committed to increasing economic development and employment opportunities in Scotland and Wales and more generally works in partnership with the devolved administrations to promote prosperity in all parts of the UK.

Employment is seen as a key driver in this target and supporting incapacity benefit claimants into work is essential in reducing the employment disparities between the regions. DWP's Pathways to Work will play a crucial role in achieving this target across the whole of Great Britain and will also assist the Northern Way's target to get 100,000 people off IB by 2014. By October 2006, 11 of the 15 English Pathways will be operational in the three northern regions. In addition to this, the Northern Way will run complementary IB pilots and the first of these is due to start on 7 November 2005 in the district of Easington, which has one of the highest rates of IB claimants at 19.7 per cent. (in 2004). By October 2006 the number of Pathways to Work pilots will increase to four in Wales and three in Scotland.

Local Authority Pensions

Mr. Frank Field: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister pursuant to the answer to the hon. Member for Oldham, East and Saddleworth (Mr. Woolas) of 18 October 2005, Official Report, column 878W, on local authority pensions, what the change in an average council tax bill he expects as a result of the contribution that local authorities are making to local government pension scheme funds. [21136]

Mr. Woolas: Decisions on the contribution local authorities make to their pensions scheme is a matter for individual authorities, as are decisions on the level of council tax.

National Society for Epilepsy

Mrs. Gillan: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister when he expects to announce the decision on the planning inquiry into the National Society for Epilepsy's appeal against the rejection of their planning applications to develop its site at Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire. [20479]

Yvette Cooper: The main parties to the appeal were informed on 17 August 2005 that the First Secretary of State, my right Hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, expects to issue his decision on or before 23 November 2005.

Thames Gateway

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what proportion of Thames Gateway Communities Plan development will be on land designated as (a) brownfield, (b) greenfield, (c) flood plains (brownfield) and (d) flood plains (greenfield). [17230]

Yvette Cooper: The precise location of future development in the Thames Gateway during the course of the regeneration programme will be dependent on a number of factors: the land allocated in local development frameworks, the sites attracting planning applications, the success of those applications and their ability to satisfy national planning policy intentions. Exact proportions cannot be predetermined.
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However in the Thames Gateway, as elsewhere, all new developments must have regard to national planning policies, including the national target set in Planning Policy Guidance note 3: Housing (PPG3) for 60 per cent. of additional housing, including conversions, to be built on previously developed land.

In the Gateway that percentage can be exceeded because there is a significant reservoir of brownfield land. The area comprises only 2 per cent. of the south east of England, but contains 17 per cent. of its brownfield land.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's target is to deliver 80 per cent. of new development in the Thames Gateway on brownfield land, which we are presently exceeding.

As to the proportions of development on flood plains, flood risk assessments indicating whether it would be appropriate to develop on a site are determining factors in the eventual location of development. All development will be in line with Planning Policy Guidance note: Development and Flood Risk (PPG25), which applies a sequential risk-based approach to prevent inappropriate development in flood risk areas. To support the effective application of planning policy, the Office of the Deputy Minister is funding Strategic Flood Risk Assessments across the Thames Gateway to assess flood risk and inform planning decisions. PPG25 advises that applications for development in flood risk areas should be accompanied by a flood risk assessment appropriate to the location, scale and nature of the development which identifies the risks of flooding to and from the development, measures to be taken to reduce those risks and how any residual risk will be managed.


Peter Viggers: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what plans the Government have to introduce changes to the law relating to unauthorised Traveller encampments. [20378]

Yvette Cooper: The Government have established a new Gypsy and Traveller Unit and one of its aims is to help local authorities improve the use of enforcement powers, including powers to tackle antisocial behaviour. The unit will also be looking at the operation of these powers to see if further action is needed.



Mr. Moore: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many United States personnel have been committed to NATO's International Security Assistance Force role in Afghanistan by the US Secretary of Defence from May 2006 onwards; and if he will make a statement. [21140]

John Reid: Details on future US deployments to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan are a matter for the US Government. Details of future deployments by those nations contributing to ISAF will become clearer as plans for ISAF expansion develop.
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Aircraft Carriers

Mr. Moore: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the operational status of the United Kingdom's aircraft carriers. [20371]

Mr. Ingram [holding answer 21 October 2005]: The operational status of the UK's three aircraft carriers is configured so that at least one is always available for tasking by CINCFLEET.

HMS Illustrious is the aircraft carrier currently available for tasking.

Civilian Staff

Mr. Donaldson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress he has made in the negotiations with the trade union side about an enhanced redundancy package for civilian staff employed by the Department in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. [20450]

Mr. Ingram [holding answer 21 October 2005]: The Trade Unions (TGWU) wrote to me on 27 May 2005 outlining proposals for an enhanced redundancy package for civilian staff. I replied on 11 July 2005 stating that officials were currently examining the proposals. This work is still under way and no further negotiations with the Trade Unions have so far taken place.

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