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Written Answers to Questions

Wednesday 19 April 2006


Council Tax

10. Mr. Holloway: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what assessment he has made of the effect of council tax increases on pensioners. [63762]

Mr. Woolas: The Government recognise the concerns of many pensioners about council tax. So does Sir Michael Lyons's Independent Inquiry into Local Government which will recommend at the end of the year how best to reform the council tax system. We look forward to receiving his findings.

14. Ann Winterton: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what the change has been in the average Band D council tax since 1997–98. [63766]

Mr. Woolas: The average Band D area council tax in England has risen from £688 in 1997–98 to £1,268 in 2006–07; an increase of £580 or 84.3 per cent.

Community Schools

12. Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his plans for community councils. [63764]

Mr. Woolas: Government will be setting out a range of proposals for parish and town councils in the forthcoming local government White Paper.

Building Regulations

Colin Challen: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister (1) if he will introduce a national quality control system under Part L of the building regulations; [60570]

(2) what steps he is taking to ensure compliance with Part L of the building regulations; [60571]

(3) if he will introduce measures to improve training for building control officers in the (a) public and (b) private sector on Part L of the building regulations. [60572]

Yvette Cooper: Local authorities and approved inspectors have a general duty under the Building Act to check that persons carrying out building work comply with the Building Regulations. Building Control Performance Standards set out recommended standards and guidance for the performance of building control that all Building Control Bodies should adopt. Beyond this there are no plans to introduce an additional national quality control system under Part L of the Building Regulations.

The Government continues to work with Building Control Bodies to see how enforcement with the new tougher energy performance standards that come into effect on 6 April 2006 can be cost effectively improved.
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This includes regulations to improve compliance by simplifying the process for calculating energy performance, requiring air pressure testing and establishing new competent person self-certification schemes.

We also have under way the largest ever training and dissemination programme for new building regulations. This programme of seminars, regional road shows and workshops targeted at building control surveyors in both the public and private sectors started in September 2005 and will include an e-learning pack for every building control surveyor.

Building Targets

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what assessment he has made of the building targets set for each local authority under the (a) Regional Planning Guidance and (b) Spatial Strategy for each Government Office region. [62316]

Yvette Cooper: There are no general building targets. However, house building targets for each local authority are set out in regional spatial strategies (formerly Regional Planning Guidance). They are assessed by the respective Regional Planning Body, both on an annual basis by monitoring actual completion rates against the respective target and, less frequently, through the review of regional spatial strategy policies.

Coastal Erosion (Essex)

Mr. Amess: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what recent assessment he has made of coastal erosion around (a) the Southend West constituency and (b) Essex; and if he will make a statement. [64022]

Mr. Morley: I have been asked to reply.

Defra has overall policy responsibility for coastal erosion risk in England and grant aids individual local authority improvement projects to reduce this risk but does not build defences, nor direct the authorities on which specific projects to undertake.

Erosion risk will vary around the coastline depending on local conditions and defences in place. Defra has encouraged the relevant authorities to produce Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs) which provide large-scale assessments of the risks associated with coastal processes and present long term policy frameworks to manage these risks in a sustainable manner. In 2001 Defra funded a national study of information on long term coastal processes and evolution over the next century (Futurecoast). This is designed to be used by coastal authorities to inform their current revisions of SMPs. The Office of Science and Technology's Foresight Future Flooding report, published in 2004, used Futurecoast and other information to consider possible rates of coastal erosion for the whole country under different scenarios over the next 80 years.

Management of coastal erosion risk and associated monitoring in specific locations is the responsibility of the relevant local authority in each area. Defra has not carried out any specific assessment in the areas identified.
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Contracts (Voluntary Sector)

Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how many contracts are let by his Department to voluntary sector organisations; how many of those are let on an annual basis; and how many of those had received finalised contracts for 2006–07 by 31 March. [63205]

Jim Fitzpatrick: The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister does not hold this information centrally and it could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

Home Information Packs

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what help will be given to estate agents to implement home information packs. [63784]

Yvette Cooper: Individual estate agents, as with other advisers to the public on home buying and selling, should consider what action they need to take to remain competitive in the new market environment which will follow from the introduction of home information packs on 1 June 2007. These are commercial decisions, and the Government do not envisage providing financial help to the industry.

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what trials have been carried out in the last three years to see how home information packs will be implemented. [63786]

Yvette Cooper: I refer to my statement of 7 April 2006 which gives details of a dry-run prior to introducing home information packs on 1 June 2007. HIP providers are currently marketing the packs, and to date 45 organisations in England and Wales have provided 2,500 packs on a voluntary basis. This number will grow significantly during stage 2 of the dry-run from October 2006 when packs will be marketed with home condition reports produced by certified inspectors.

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what meetings his Department has had with (a) estate agents, (b) mortgage lenders, (c) the Law Society and (d) other stakeholders concerning home information packs. [63789]

Yvette Cooper: The Department has regular meetings with all the key stakeholders in the home buying and selling industry. The principal forum for discussion with the representative bodies, including the National Association of Estate Agents, the Council of Mortgage Lenders and the Law Society, is the Central Stakeholder Group which generally meets every month.

Local Authority Housing

Mr. Meacher: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how much rental income was received by each local authority from their council house stock in each year since 1997; how much of this rental income each year was (a) kept for use by the local authority in their housing revenue account and (b) transferred from local authority control for other purposes; and what percentage the amount transferred away from local authority control represents as a percentage of the amount remaining in the housing revenue account in each case. [56381]

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Yvette Cooper [holding answer 7 March 2006]: A table showing available data has been placed in the House Library.

Rent forms part of the HRA, along with various allowances for expenditure (management, maintenance, major repairs allowance, debt charges etc). Some authorities are in deficit and we are providing net subsidy of around £200 million in 2005–06, with similar amounts forecast for future years.

Where an authority has an assumed surplus (negative subsidy) transfers are made to the ODPM according to calculations and assumptions made independently of the actual rents an authority charges. These transfers are recycled through the subsidy system and paid to authorities with an assumed deficit. None of the transfers are used for 'other purposes'.

Prior to 2004–05, net subsidy entitlement was calculated differently. Housing element requirements were calculated similarly to the current HRA subsidy, but then added to the rent rebate element which was then accounted for in the HRA. Where the housing element was a negative amount, it was deducted from the rent rebate subsidy entitlement, and any net subsidy requirement was met by the Exchequer.

In some cases, where surpluses remained after the two subsidy streams had been reconciled, the balance would be transferred to that authority's own general fund and lost to housing. No data were routinely collected to show the amounts transferred.

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