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The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): This statement concerns a package of changes to planning policy the Government are announcing today. We are consulting on draft "Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 3: Housing", draft "Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 25: Flooding" and we are publishing a new Green Belt Direction. Copies of these documents will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 3: Housing

The Government's housing policy aims to deliver a step on the housing ladder for future generations of homeowners, quality and choice for those who rent, and, sustainable, mixed and inclusive communities. To do this, we need the planning system to provide for new homes which are well-designed and built to high environmental standards, in places that are well located, with good access to jobs and key services.

Draft PPS3, which the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is publishing today, is a key component of our strategy to deliver more homes where they are needed. It
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provides a national policy framework for those at regional and local level responsible for developing planning policies. It advocates an evidence-based approach, including the use of sustainability appraisals, in order to ensure that development plans provide a sound framework for deciding planning applications.

Draft PPS3 introduces important changes in the approach to planning for housing. Planning needs to be more responsive to the housing market, and to take account of affordability alongside the social and environmental impacts of development. It continues the priority for brownfield sites. It attaches high importance to the design and mix of housing that is delivered in new developments to improve the quality of residential environments and contribute to the delivery of sustainable communities.

New Green Belt Direction

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is also today issuing through a circular to local authorities a new Town and Country Planning (Green Belt) Direction.
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This new Direction will come into force on 3 January 2006 and will, for the first time, specifically require planning applications for inappropriate development of certain types and scale in the Green Belt which local planning authorities are minded to approve, to be referred to my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister. The Direction will ensure that the Secretary of State has the opportunity to consider whether to call in for public inquiry and his own determination the more significant and potentially most harmful development proposals in the Green Belt before they can be approved. However, the Secretary of State will continue to use his powers of intervention selectively, in line with his call-in policy.

The introduction of a new, free-standing Green Belt Direction demonstrates the continuing importance that the Government attach to the protection of the Green Belt.

Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 25: Flooding

To strengthen the key role of the planning system in managing flood risk we are publishing for consultation:

The draft PPS25 strengthens and clarifies planning policy on development and flood risk to:

The proposed flooding Direction will provide greater scrutiny for major developments proposed in flood risk areas. Where local authorities intend approve applications that the Environment Agency still objects to, ODPM could consider whether to call them in for decision by a Minister.

Making the Environment Agency a statutory consultee for planning applications in flood risk areas will reinforce implementation of PPS25 by ensuring that the agency is able to advise on all applications where flood risk is an issue.


Agriculture and Fisheries Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): I chaired the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 22, 23 and 24 November for the agriculture items on the agenda. My hon. Friend, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ben Bradshaw, represented the United Kingdom and also chaired the Council for the fisheries items. My hon. Friend, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Jim Knight, represented the United Kingdom for fisheries items. Also in attendance was the Scottish Environment and Rural Affairs Minister, Ross Finnie.

The Council reached a general approach on the reform of the common market organisation of sugar ("general approach" being the term for an agreement reached before "European Parliament" has issued its
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opinion). The main elements of this are as follows: a 36 per cent. price cut on white sugar over four years and de-coupled compensation for farmers at 64.2 per cent. of the price cut alongside a voluntary restructuring scheme aimed at reducing EU production by around six million tonnes in the same period.

This will bring the sugar sector into line with other major CAP reforms and put the EU in a much stronger position for the Doha round talks in Hong Kong in December. It will also enable the EU to comply with the recent WTO Panel ruling limiting subsidised exports and allow the EU to fulfil its existing commitments on preferential imports from developing countries without new restrictions.

The Council also reached a general approach on rural development strategic guidelines. The guidelines suggest the priorities areas which Member States might address when preparing their rural development programmes for 2007–13.

The Council reached unanimous political agreement on technical conservation measures for the Baltic Sea, the Belts and the Sound. The regulation establishes measures for the conservation of fishery resources and includes restrictions on nets and conditions for their use; minimum landing size; and restrictions on fishing in specified areas. The measures contribute to sustainable fisheries in the Baltic.

The Council held exchanges of views on the forthcoming proposal for quotas in the Baltic Sea for 2006; and on effort control measures associated with total allowable catches and—quotas for 2006 in advance of the December negotiations.

Under "Any Other Business", the Fisheries Commissioner gave an update on negotiations on the annual fisheries agreement between the EU and Norway.

Ireland raised the possibility of introducing inter-annual flexibility in the management of certain fish quotas, in particular mackerel.

The Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection updated the Council on the Commission's plans for revising the current safeguard measures on Avian Influenza and on international developments. He noted that the Commission would propose extending the emergency biosecurity safeguard measures currently due to lapse on 1 December, until next spring to take into account the spring migration of wild birds. As for the import restrictions on susceptible poultry, other captive birds and their products from Croatia, Romania and Turkey the Commission planned to ease the blanket restrictions and only prohibit susceptible animals and products from infected regions.

Poland drew the attention of the Council to the recent ban imposed by the Russian Federation on meat, meat products and plant products from Poland on the grounds that export certificates accompanying such goods had been found to contain irregularities. The Commission advised that Poland should hold bilateral talks with Russia as a first step to resolve the issues. The Commission also indicated that they would keep the situation under review and both the Commission and the Presidency offered to assist further if required.
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The Agriculture Commissioner gave an update on the state of play of the WTO Doha Development Agenda negotiations, including the prospects for the WTO Ministerial meeting in Hong Kong.

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Hungary, supported by Slovakia asked the Commission for amendments to the legislation to permit a smooth transition from their current scheme to the Single farm payment scheme. The Agriculture Commissioner indicated that she would consider the request constructively, and would come back with a response after it has been considered at technical level.

France asked the Commission to introduce safeguard measures against apple imports, under Article XIX of the GATT.

Cyprus presented to the Council a request for approval of a nationally funded aid to regularising farm debt. The Council has three months within which to give its decision.

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