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Planning Delivery Grant Finalisation

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): In December I announced the first provisional allocations for the 2006–07 round of planning delivery grant in England, the majority of which is a performance-related grant paid to local authorities in recognition of their work in planning. Today I am finalising these allocations and announcing the remaining final elements of the Grant to the House.

The Government's 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. Planning delivery grant 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 March 2007. Beyond this date the PSA requires local authorities to maintain this level of performance.

The Planning Delivery Grant (PDG) is not ring-fenced or hypothecated beyond the condition that 25 per cent. of the total received by authorities in the 2006–07 financial year must be used for capital expenditure. In that financial year, £135 million will support planning services through the PDG, in addition to other efforts at boosting the resources available to enhance good planning, such as the raising of planning fees in April 2005.

I can confirm today the amount of grant to be distributed to authorities in 2006–07 is just over £127 million. It will be paid to local planning authorities at a London borough, district and county level, national park authorities, regional planning bodies, the broads authority and the Greater London Authority. The remaining £7.975 million of the grant will be used to support a number of national initiatives and this is broken down as follows: The planning advisory service and the advisory team for large applications will both be allocated £2 million each for their work supporting local authority planning performance; £2 million will be allocated to the planning inspectorate for their work on local development plan preparation; £0.5 million will be used to support the implementation of planning for
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housing policies in "Planning Policy Statement 3: Housing", which will be published in the summer; £1.3 million to fund post-graduate planning bursaries to address issues caused by the shortage of qualified planners and £175,000 to develop a development control certificate. This is a qualification which would provide planning support staff with a university accredited qualification to equip them to deal with minor planning applications, hence raising development control capacity in LPAs.

The grant elements for local authorities being announced today are awarded on a number of different criteria. £20.8 million has been allocated across English local authorities based on their performance in making future plans for their local area. This grant allocation was dependent on local authorities delivering an annual monitoring report to Government Offices by December 31 2005 and all 396 local authorities met this target and will consequently receive £52,525 each.

This year has seen a huge improvement in local authorities' online planning services with 95 per cent. now achieving a ranking of good or excellent. This is well above the target in our PSA 6 delivery plan which states that "80 per cent. of local authorities are to have 'good or excellent' e-planning services in place by the end of March 2006". We are continuing to use planning delivery grant to incentivise and reward local authorities' achievements in this area. The "e-planning" allocations will range from £4,920 to £24,446 to all authorities ranked as good or excellent through satisfying a minimum of 15 out of 21 e-planning criteria, with the highest awards going to those who achieve all 21.

Local authorities are rewarded for both improvement towards and achievement of best value development control targets in the period 1 October 2004 to 30 June 2005. These allocations were announced as provisional in December 2005 and I am announcing finalised figures in this statement today. The proportion of grant allocated to local authorities within the high housing demand and growth areas as identified in the communities plan has been increased to further incentivise the step change in housing supply which the Barker review concluded was needed to make housing more affordable for the next generation, with £16 million being allocated in total. This money is allocated in proportion to the contribution of these authorities towards delivering net additions to the housing stock. Pathfinder authorities receive an allocation of £100,000 each in recognition of the low demand for housing in their areas. Local authorities are also awarded £1,743 for each enterprise area within their boundary.

Regional planning bodies receive grant to support their work preparing regional spatial strategies and in recognition of the additional work which the strengthened regional planning function involves. In 2006–07 this totals £6.835 million. The Greater London Authority (GLA) will receive £90,000 in recognition of its plan making responsibilities. The award is based on the GLA's performance against its business plan, and is given in recognition of work on: sub-regional development frameworks; completion of strategic planning guidance documents; the Housing Capacity Study; and the implementation of the London Plan.
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This year, as in the previous two years, the grant will be subject to conditions to ensure that the 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.

As part of the allocation criteria for PDG, I have included a provision for abatement of the development control element of the grant. This relates to performance on appeals and was announced as part of the first announcement of provisional figures which I announced in December 2005. This states that where an authority's performance on appeal is at least 40 per cent. worse than the national average (32.65 per cent. of appeals upheld against the authority), 10 per cent. of their development control allocation will be abated.

Where this performance is at least 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. Today's announcement confirms the abatements of the 19 authorities whose provisional allocations of the development control element of grant were abated in the first announcement of PDG 06/07 in December 2005, and the £697,358 that this generates will be recycled amongst all other authorities.

A table showing the amounts of planning delivery grant payable for the financial year 2006–07 is available in the libraries of the House. This sets out the details of each recipient's grant.

Local Government Pension Scheme (Amendment) Regulations 2006

The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Phil Woolas): My statement to the House of Commons on 28 March re-affirmed our commitment to secure the continued affordability and viability of the Local Government Pension Scheme and to provide secure, equality-proofed pensions for its existing and future membership.

A statutory instrument will be laid before Parliament today to remove the 85 year rule from the Scheme from 1 October 2006, in order to comply with Council Directive 2000/78/EC. The regulations will also provide protection for existing scheme members who will be 60 and satisfy the 85-year rule by 2013 and will introduce significant and well supported flexibilities into the scheme's legal framework to reflect the simplified tax regime provided by the Finance Act 2004.

In the light of discussions held yesterday with the trades unions and local government employers, we are calling on both sides to begin talks, to start now on a nothing ruled in nothing ruled out basis, to address the protection of existing scheme members, the recycling of savings, and the development of a more equitable scheme.
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The Government stand prepared to introduce further amendments before the summer recess to update the regulations in light of any agreed proposals which emerge from the talks between the trades unions and local government employers.

The Government are committed to good quality pensions for local government workers without placing an unfair burden on taxpayers.

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