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Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance on a matter of great importance. First, though, in the last debate the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), inadvertently misled the House by saying said that I had not been present all the way through, when in fact I had.

On 30 November 2005, the Prime Minister said that no one had to wait more than six months for an in-patient operation. However, in a parliamentary written answer of 23 January this year, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Birmingham,
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Hodge Hill (Mr. Byrne), said that the NHS now operates a maximum waiting time for admissions of six months for an in-patient operation—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I understand that the hon. Gentleman has raised this matter on a previous occasion. If so, it would be wholly inappropriate to raise it again on a point of order now.

Mr. Bone: It has only just come to my attention that I received two answers to parliamentary questions on the same day that are massively contradictory.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The content of answers to parliamentary questions is not a matter of order for the Chair. I think that the hon. Gentleman will have heard Mr. Speaker advise on other occasions that such matters are matters of debate that should be pursued in other ways, either through further parliamentary questions or through the other parliamentary means that are open to hon. Members.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

International Development

That the draft International Development Association (Fourteenth Replenishment) Order 2006, which was laid before this House on 18th January, be approved.—[Gillian Merron.]

Question agreed to.


St. Mary's Church, Humberstone

6.2 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I wish to present a petition on behalf of my constituent Amanda Palmer of 36, Ocean Road, Thurnby Lodge, Leicester, and 900 other constituents. It concerns the decision of St. Mary's parochial church in Humberstone to prevent people laying flowers and mementoes next to the graves of their loved ones. They are very distressed and concerned by the decision, and as a result of it feel that they cannot pay sufficient tribute to those who were dear to them and who are buried or interred at Humberstone church.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.
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RSPB Old Moor Wetlands Centre

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Coaker]

6.3 pm

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): I am pleased to have this opportunity to draw the House's attention to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds's Old Moor wetlands centre in my constituency, which I believe is very much a best practice model for the Government's sustainable communities agenda.

Given the type of seat that I represent, I am an avid supporter of the Government's sustainable communities agenda. After all, having witnessed at first hand the total devastation visited on my local communities by the previous Government's politically motivated pit closure programme of the late 1980s and early 1990s, I know that it is important that the Government ensure that future local community development is founded on the principle of sustainability. The Old Moor centre is a classic example of the type of good practice that we as a Government need to develop, in south Yorkshire and across the rest of the country.

Twenty years ago, the site of the Old Moor wetlands was part of a much larger area known as the Wath Manvers complex which, by the early 1990s, had become the largest area of despoiled land in the whole of western Europe. Something drastic needed to be done, and the three Dearne valley local authorities—Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster—decided to work collaboratively on the project when they won city challenge funding from the previous Government. Indeed, my local authority of Barnsley ended up being the only local authority in England to win two city challenges, which exemplifies its efficiency and effectiveness and—I am pleased to say—that continues to this day. I would say that of course, being a former leader of Barnsley council.

The development of Old Moor wetlands was the brainchild of Robin Norbury, a good friend of mine, the former planning chairman on Barnsley council and member for the Darton ward. It became part of the wider regeneration city challenge project to rebrand the Dearne valley. The other flagship projects under city challenge included the development of Dearne valley college, addressing the skills deficit in the Dearne valley, and the designation of one of the last enterprise zones in England, the Dearne valley enterprise zone. All those flagship projects have been highly successful in transforming the Dearne valley into an economically and environmentally attractive area.

The Government's sustainable communities programme offers significant challenges to how we deliver genuine sustainable development. The Old Moor wetlands centre has demonstrated that it is possible to deliver green infrastructure, enhance wildlife populations and conserve natural resources while offering jobs, education and recreational opportunities to local people. The benefits from investing in wildlife and places such as the Old Moor centre are manifold. We need to convince all in Government that that is the right path to take.
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Old Moor has proven to be an excellent example of how green infrastructure can be developed to help contribute to the Government's sustainable communities agenda, and that has been achieved thanks to significant support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Yorkshire Forward and Waste Recycling Environmental Ltd. It has also built on the splendid work done by Barnsley council to create a wetland environment and bring the reserve to the point where it is nationally important for wintering wader birds. Old Moor has helped to deliver a fantastic resource for birds and people, thanks to the generosity of RSPB members and the many funding partners who have contributed.

Old Moor is a demonstration of what can be achieved in the restoration of former coalfields, and I hope that that approach can be replicated across the country, as part of the Government's sustainable communities agenda. Restoration of former coalfields has created excellent places for wildlife. The reserve buildings also feature renewable energy technologies and have provided new facilities for local communities, including conference facilities for local business and community groups.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): The Old Moor project is a flagship for the restoration and regeneration of the Dearne valley and it sounds much like the Sent valley project in my own village, which is part of the wider regeneration of north-west Leicestershire. The key to that very successful project has been community involvement at volunteer level—not at employee or passive visitor level, although that has been useful. It is that volunteer involvement that has built the links. Has it also been crucial at Old Moor?

Jeff Ennis: My hon. Friend makes a valid point, and I shall come to the role of volunteers shortly. Their role is vital. Not only does it improve the quality of life of the volunteer, but it enhances the quality of life of those whom the volunteering helps.

In all, the reserve employs 24 people and has increased the viability of local businesses by adopting a local sourcing policy. Wildlife tourism is big business. People travel to see natural spectacles, and spend money at local shops and other businesses. The total number of visitors expected by the centre in this financial year is 65,000.

The RSPB has created a number of wildlife viewing opportunities for the local community and has demonstrated that rare species can be an asset for the local economy. For example, in the year after the foot and mouth outbreak, 70,000 people visited an osprey viewing site in the Lake district, demonstrating that the attraction of wildlife can draw people back to the countryside. Osprey watching at the nine sites in Britain managed by the RSPB is worth a staggering £2.5 million to local economies. The phenomenon is not restricted to birds of prey. Marine mammals tourism generates £8 million a year for the west coast of Scotland.

On the education front, about 4,000 schoolchildren a year enjoy visits to experience and see renewable technologies through the Old Moor reserve's field teaching programme. Nationally, nearly 50,000 children benefit from RSPB facilities. The society believes that all
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children should be able to benefit from out-of-classroom learning, because all our modern technology and sophisticated teaching practices and living are no substitute for a child getting out of the classroom to experience nature and culture at first hand—getting their hands dirty, as we say in Yorkshire. That can link to, and help to achieve, many Government objectives, such as those on children's health, citizenship, social inclusion and the reduction of deprivation, crime and unemployment. The site's award-winning, energy-efficient visitor centre makes use of renewable energy technologies; it has a biofuel burner, solar panels, a wind turbine and a solar water heater.

On the health front, physical inactivity costs the national health service about £8 billion a year. Sport is not always the best way for the majority of people to get fit, and research suggests that sociable walking in green space can be the best way to get people moving. It also suggests that if the primary purpose of exercise is contact with a high-quality environment people are more likely to sustain their activity and thus accrue more benefits.

Health walks, such as those organised by Old Moor, and volunteering can provide people with the motivation to become active. One in six, or 18 per cent., of the RSPB's 13,000 volunteers were inactive before they started work for the RSPB, and that 18 per cent. are prepared to continue volunteering, which emphasises the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor). More than 350 health walks in the UK are organised by more than 10,000 volunteers, led by the British Heart Foundation and the Countryside Agency.

Throughout England, the RSPB is an effective delivery agent and partner in the Government's sustainable communities programme and it has plans to extend the model to help to develop a bold and innovative vision to regenerate the lower Aire valley in west Yorkshire, which includes part of the Pontefract and Castleford constituency of my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning. The RSPB believes that, as a society, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build sustainable communities such as those in the Dearne and lower Aire valleys. We must make the right choices to provide the homes and jobs that people need, without jeopardising their quality of life now or in the future.

Sustainable communities need wise planning, for which we must meet four crucial challenges. First, we must deliver a green infrastructure. Wildlife-rich spaces in and around new communities play an important role in people's quality of life. We believe that green infrastructure, such as that created at Old Moor, is as vital to us as the traditional infrastructure of roads, hospitals and schools. There should be no difference between hard infrastructure and green infrastructure.

Secondly, we must respect environmental capacity. Even if green infrastructure is fully designed into new communities, there will still be serious questions about the overall environmental impact of development. We believe that much more needs to be done to assess, and if necessary avoid, the impact, of national and regional planning. To do that, and thirdly, we need a national spatial strategy subject to robust strategic environmental assessment.
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Fourthly, we need to conserve natural resources. Creating sustainable communities inevitably has implications for the consumption of natural resources such as fossil fuels and water. Climate change is a crucial issue, both for biodiversity and communities. To build a new home with water and energy saving measures to the eco-homes excellent standard costs as little as £160. Building on research carried out for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the water industry and the Housing Corporation have estimated that society could save billions of pounds on new water resources infrastructure and reduce carbon emissions. The proposed code for sustainable homes must be both rigorous and mandatory, not left to the whims of house builders.

Finally, we need to protect and enhance wildlife, which should go without saying. The RSPB also believes that sustainable community development must protect and enhance the best bits of biodiversity. That is the test of genuine sustainable development. If we cannot protect and enhance sites such as Old Moor, we will certainly not pass our environment on to future generations in the state that they would wish.

In conclusion, as I am sure that the Minister will know, the RSPB's mission statement is simply, "For birds, for people, for ever". I believe that that mission statement could also form part of the Government's sustainable communities mission statement, and I commend the Old Moor wetlands centre to the Minister and, indeed, the House.

6.16 pm

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