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Planning Delivery Grant

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): In July 2002 my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister announced that he would be making an additional £350 million available to local authorities over the period 2003–06 to improve the delivery of planning services. Since then, we have announced that the Planning Delivery Grant (PDG) will continue, with a further £255 million being made available in the period to 2008. We have now decided the basis on which we will distribute the Development Control and Enterprise Areas allocations of the Planning Delivery Grant of £135 million in 2006–07 and will be informing recipients of their provisional allocations.

The grant is performance related. Our aim is to enhance the resourcing of the planning system in a way that drives performance improvement and ensures effective delivery of our objectives for sustainable communities. It is specifically targeted towards meeting the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's Public Service Agreements (PSA) 5 and 6. PSA 5 aims to achieve a better balance between housing availability and demand. PSA 6 requires all authorities to have local development frameworks in place (in accordance with agreed Local Development Schemes) and to meet the Best Value development control targets by 31 March 2007.

I can confirm today that the development control allocation is £78 million (57.7 per cent. of the total grant), with £71 million going direct to authorities to reward their improvement towards and achievement of Best Value development control targets in the period October 2004 to June 2005. The assessment is based on three quarterly performance figures this year because the announcement of the first allocation of PDG has been brought forward. It is now in line with other announcements of grant and this will help to increase certainty in local authority budget setting processes. This allocation will be paid to local planning authorities at a district and county level, national parks, regional planning bodies, the Broads Authority and the Greater London Authority. A provisional £2.2 million is also being made available to authorities with Enterprise Areas in their boundary.

This year we have increased the incentive for authorities to meet targets by allocating three quarters of the overall development control allocation for meeting targets and a quarter for performance improvement. In addition authorities that meet all three targets will receive a bonus of £50,000. The awards will be weighted to take account of workload and performance, and the rewards for meeting the major targets, or improving in this area, will be weighted more significantly.

For the first time there will be a topslice of £7 million from this development control total, which be used to support authorities towards meeting the target. There will be a topslice from this development control total, which be used to support authorities towards meeting the target. We agreed following a review of development control carried out with the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit that up to £5 million would be made available to the Planning Advisory Service and ATLAS, the team supporting authorities dealing with large housing applications in the south east. A topslice of £2 million
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from this total will be used to reward and incentivise authorities that are proactive in performance management of applications, especially through the use of electronic tracking of applications, and handling of backlogs. I will make a further announcement on what this will entail, early in 2006.

As in previous years, the development control allocations are subject to an abatement related to performance on appeals. Where an authority's performance on appeal is 40 per cent. worse than the national average (32.63 per cent. of appeals upheld against the authority), 10 per cent. of their development control allocation will be abated. Where this performance is 50 per cent. worse than the average, this abatement will increase to 20 per cent. of the development control allocation. This condition underlines the continuing importance we place on quality in decision making.

Grant allocations are not ring-fenced and authorities have complete discretion in the way they spend this money. However, to encourage investment for the future, 25 per cent. of the total grant paid to any individual authority must be spent on capital. The remaining 75 per cent. can be spent by the local authority on resource or capital budgets.

The final condition imposed on authorities ensures that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has the power to act appropriately to partly withhold payment or recover part or all of grant paid where there are concerns over the accuracy or proven inaccuracies in the information on which allocations were made. I may consider withholding up to 10 per cent. of the grant allocated to authorities whose Best Value Performance Indicator 109 (BVPI 109) has been qualified by the auditor until we have established to our satisfaction the reason for the qualification and the reliability of the data on which grant was allocated. Following this I may seek to recover some or all of the monies paid to those authorities.

Today's announced allocation remains provisional and so remains subject to a final determination of grant which will occur when the second announcement is made.

The second announcement will cover all other aspects of the grant including rewards for e-planning (£5.7 million), plan-making (£20.8 million), high housing demand and growth areas (£16 million) and low demand pathfinder areas (£2.5 million). It will also include topslices for the Planning Inspectorate (£2 million), Regional Planning Bodies (£6.5 million), the GLA (£100,000) and a national initiative of planning bursaries (£1.32 million). This second announcement is expected to be made in March 2006. All theses figures, along with those for development control and enterprise areas, remain provisional and subject to final determination by Ministers with agreement by Treasury.

A table showing the provisional amounts payable is available in the Libraries of both Houses. This sets out the details of each recipient's provisional grant allocations for development control and enterprise areas and abatements for poor appeals performance.
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Environment Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): I will chair the second Environment Council under the UK presidency on Friday 2 December October in Brussels. The Minister of State for Climate Change and Environment, will also attend, as the UK representative.

At this Council we will aim to secure partial political agreement on the LIFE+ regulation, the only dedicated community financial instrument for the environment. We cannot reach a final agreement on the overall budget until the wider future financing negotiations are completed, but we want to agree the rest of the text at this meeting, to ensure that we can move as quickly as possible to adopt the Regulation before the current LIFE extension runs out at the end of 2006.

We will be discussing the Commission's recent Communication on aviation emissions, which supports the integration of aviation into the EU emissions trading scheme. We are seeking Council Conclusions to give the Commission a clear steer from Member States on the best way to tackle the impact on climate change of aviation emissions.

Council will also be asked to agree Conclusions preparing for the International Conference on Chemicals Management which will be held in Dubai in February 2006, and is scheduled to adopt the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM).

Council will debate the Thematic Strategy on Air Quality which sets out the Commission's policy on air pollution up to 2020, and the associated proposal for a new Air Quality Directive. The focus of the discussion will be how the objectives under the Thematic Strategy might be delivered, and the balance in the Directive between new measures to reduce the environmental and health impacts of air pollution, and flexibility for Member States to comply with their obligations.

Finally, Council will debate next steps on GMOs. There was a short discussion on this issue at the October Environment Council, where we undertook to enable a further debate at the December Council, focussing on member states views of which aspects of policy on GM crops and food merit further in-depth analysis and political discussion, such as the potential risks and benefits of GM technology (including the regulatory regime and the decision-making process for individual GMOs) and the need for further research.

Under "Any Other Business", points will be raised on: the Biodiversity Strategy; the Nanotechnology Action Plan; Green Public Procurement; the Importation of Wild Birds; Action for the Baltic Marine Environment; and the Clean Clever and Competitive Initiative.

Common Agricultural Policy

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I have today published a paper which contributes to the debate already underway on how to achieve a sustainable future for agriculture.
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We have presented a vision for what a sustainable model of European agriculture might look like in the future to benefit Europe and the rest of the world.

The paper does not set out a route map for getting there. That must be the subject of inclusive debate across Europe and achieved through a carefully planned process and to a manageable timescale.

Through the modernised European agriculture policy set out in this paper, we believe we can achieve the following goals:

Copies of the paper will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

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