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Yvette Cooper: Privately owned empty homes account for 85 per cent. of all vacant homes. The provisions of the Housing Act 2004 relating to empty dwelling management orders do not apply where the relevant proprietor is a public sector body.
A local housing authority will be able to apply to a residential property tribunal for approval to make an empty dwelling management order where a
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dwelling has been wholly unoccupied for at least the prescribed period of time and is not excepted by virtue of an order made by the appropriate national authority.
The Housing Act 2004 provides that the appropriate national authority may by order prescribe exceptions to the making of empty dwelling management orders where the vacancy arose following the death of the relevant proprietor. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has recently undertaken a consultation exercise on proposed exceptions and is currently considering how these will apply to unoccupied dwellings where the relevant proprietor has died.
Yvette Cooper: The planning system is in place to control the use and development of land, not its ownership. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is aware, however, of companies buying agricultural land in green belt areas and subdividing it into small plots for sale where there is little prospect of development being allowed. In April last year officials wrote to local planning authorities, reminding them of their enforcement powers and urging them to engage in publicity to give prospective purchasers of rural plots a more realistic idea of local plan policies and other restraints on development, including the presence of Green Belt.
Mr. Pelling: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister when the bar to the right to acquire their home at a discount will be lifted for tenants of properties built or acquired by housing associations before 1 April 1997. 
Yvette Cooper: The Government have no plans to change the eligibility for the Right to Acquire scheme. However, the Government are introducing a Social Homebuy product in April 2006 which will help social tenants to buy a minimum 25 per cent. share at a discount.
Details of the Social Homebuy proposals are outlined in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's Consultation Paper Homebuy-expanding the opportunity to own", launched in April 2005 and the Government's Response to this consultation which was published on 14 September 2005. The Consultation Paper is available
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in the House of Commons Library and the Government's response can be accessed on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's website.
Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister pursuant to the answer of 19 October 2005, Official Report, column 1015W, on local government pensions, what the (a) assets, (b) funding shortfall and (c) total scheme liability was for each of the scheme administering authorities. 
Mr. Hunt: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will (a) set limits on the housing density of market towns and (b) ensure that changes to housing density in market towns takes place only after consultation with local residents. 
Yvette Cooper: It is for local planning authorities to set appropriate levels of density for housing development in their areas, including in market towns, through the development plan process, having regard to the Government's national policy on housing densities. Current national policy in Planning Policy Guidance note 3 Housing" was set out in my answer to the hon. Member of 14 October 2005, Official Report, column 613W. Local planning authorities are required to involve their communities in the preparation of, and any proposed changes to, their development plans. The Government intend to publish for consultation a new national policy framework for planning for housing through draft Planning Policy Statement 3 later this year.
Mr. Laws: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what his estimate is of the cost savings to the Exchequer of introducing a pension scheme retirement age of 65 years for all firemen, local government employees and employees of his Department and its agencies from 2025; and if he will make a statement. 
The regional Assemblies as voluntary bodies are not subject to the code of recommended practice on local authority publicity. However, the
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Office of the Deputy Prime Minister would expect Assemblies in their own operation to have regard to the broad principles contained in the code.
Regional Assemblies as voluntary bodies are not bodies to which the Audit Commission can appoint auditors. However, where the accountable body for an Assembly is a local authority, the Audit Commission may seek approval from the Secretary of State to appoint auditors at the request of an Assembly.
Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what were the reasons for announcing site locations for the proposed regional fire control centres in advance of (a) completion of and (b) consultation upon the business case for the Fire Control Project; and if he will make a statement. 
Jim Fitzpatrick: The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister did not announce the site locations in advance of consultation on the business case. The FiReControl business case, in accordance with Treasury guidance, is subject to a three stage development process: strategic, outline and full. The first two stages are complete. The project is also subject to the Office of Government Commerce Gateway Review process, which reviews the business case at these stages in order to provide confidence that the investment decision can be taken. In 2004, we consulted fire and rescue authorities on the recommendations of the Mott MacDonald report The Future of Fire and Rescue Service Control Rooms in England and Wales: Update 2003", on which the strategic business case was based. We also consulted them on the outline business case before the decision was taken to proceed with the accommodation procurement. The outline business case is the key document for the purposes of assessing the strength of the case for the project. The full business case will not be available until we have actual costs for the technology/infrastructure services procurement, and final cost information. It will not be subject to further consultation unless the strength and structure of the arguments change significantly.
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