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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 24 July 2006

Communities and Local Government

Commission for Racial Equality (Annual Report 2005)

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Ruth Kelly): The Commission for Racial Equality's Annual Report 2005 is published today.

Copies will be available in the House Library. Copies will also be sent to the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales.

Control of Advertisements

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): The Government are consulting on draft regulations to control outdoor advertisements and an accompanying draft circular and a partial regulatory impact assessment.

The draft regulations and circular take forward proposals announced in 2000 and 2002 following earlier consultation.

The new draft regulations will update and improve the current arrangements for controlling outdoor advertisements and make the legislation more responsive to rapidly changing forms of advertising. The draft circular will clarify the legislation and provide guidance to help ensure that the system operates effectively.

The consultation period ends eight weeks from today and we expect to make the regulations and publish the circular by the end of the year.

Copies of the consultation documents are available in the Libraries of both Houses or via the DCLG website at: www.communities.gov.uk/consultations.

The draft circular includes guidance and advice to local planning authorities on dealing with unlawful advertisements alongside motorways and trunk roads. This is part of a package of measures we have adopted to get these unlawful advertisements removed.

I will be writing to the leaders of councils in whose areas these unlawful advertisements are still being displayed seeking their assurance that they will take action to get these advertisements removed.

Local Development Frameworks

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Meg Munn): The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (PCPA 2004) which commenced on 28 September 2004 provided for a three-year transitional period in which policies in
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old style plans could remain in force pending adoption of policies in the new development plan documents (DPDs) and regional spatial strategies (RSS). The policies in the old style plans in place at commencement of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 are saved until the end of the three-year transitional period, which ends on 27 September 2007. However, policies in plans that are adopted or approved after commencement of the PCPA 2004 will be saved for three years from adoption or approval date. If policies in old style plans are not extended after the three-year saved period and policies in DPDs and RSSs have not replaced them, there will be a risk of a policy gap for local planning authorities and regional planning bodies in carrying out their planning functions. My officials will be writing to all local planning authorities and regional planning bodies shortly to inform them about the procedures that they will be required to follow when making applications for extension of old style policies and the type of polices that are likely to be given favourable consideration.

The assessment of the case for saving old style policies will be based on the criteria set out in Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 12 which are:

These policies will include policies that would help deliver Government objectives, such as green belt boundaries, unimplemented waste and minerals site allocations, housing site allocations, established settlement boundaries (pending review through DPDs), policies that support the delivery of housing; regeneration policies and policies that will enhance economic development.

Housing and Planning Delivery Grant

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): In our December response to the Kate Barker review of housing supply we committed to reform the planning delivery grant to support local housing delivery and conduct a wider consultation on local planning and housing incentives. Today we launch the consultation on a proposal for a new housing and planning delivery grant and the criteria for allocations for the final year of the current planning delivery grant. The consultation will run until 17 October 2006.

The Government's aim is to encourage local authorities to respond more effectively to local housing demand. Over 200,000 new households are formed
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each year but last year just under 170,000 additional homes were built, with upward pressure on house prices as result. The Government believe that local authorities do not have sufficient incentives to respond to housing need.

Under our proposals, a performance related grant would be paid to local authorities as a reward for meeting the housing needs of the community and in improving planning performance. The proposal is part of the Government's package of measures to improve housing affordability and our commitment to create and maintain sustainable communities.

The Government's aim with a new grant would be to encourage local authorities to become active in the delivery of new housing to meet local housing demand. The grant would be awarded to local authorities with high levels of demand who are delivering additional housing. The proposal envisages that the grant would continue to resource planning to ensure effective delivery of the new planning system.

We are also consulting on the criteria to allocate £120 million of planning delivery grant for the financial year 2007-08. Within this allocation we are proposing to increase the percentage of planning delivery grant awarded to support housing. This is to ensure that the grant better supports areas which are delivering high numbers of new homes and areas struggling with issues of low demand. We plan to announce the first part of this grant in November 2006, with further announcements planned for spring 2007.

Copies of the Planning Delivery Grant 2007-08: Proposed Allocations Criteria have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and is available on the DCLG website at http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=l 501792

The housing and planning delivery grant consultation paper will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses tomorrow and will be available from tomorrow afternoon on the DCLG website at http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=l017165

Housing Private Finance Initiative

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): The closing date for expressions of interest to the fifth housing PFI bidding round in support of our decent homes programme and for the provision of additional social rented housing was 31 March.

My officials are in the final stages of the assessment process and I expect to announce the outcome during the summer.

Housing and Regeneration Review

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Ruth Kelly): I am today updating the House on the housing and regeneration review, launched in April this year by the Deputy Prime Minister, the then Minister for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr.Miliband).

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This Government have an ambitious agenda for housing and regeneration. My letter of 12 July to the Prime Minister outlined my vision for developing mixed communities and increasing the supply of affordable and market housing.

Delivering this agenda requires a step-change in our activities. It is therefore vital that we get our delivery arrangements absolutely right, with clear, focused and accountable delivery chains.

The current review of housing and regeneration provides an important opportunity to build on the existing strengths of English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation and ensure a coherent approach to delivering new housing and mixed sustainable communities. We must make the most of the skills and expertise of these bodies, and maximise the use of private investment, public subsidy, land holdings and assets to support and deliver local and regional housing and regeneration strategies.

At the same time, the creation of the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) as a new strategic department, focused on delivering for people and places, offers an opportunity to evaluate our wider departmental delivery chain for housing and regeneration. I have therefore asked my officials to undertake further work in three key areas.

First, in addition to addressing the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships, I have asked officials to examine the DCLG's delivery functions to determine the scope for rationalising existing delivery focused activities across the piece. Secondly, I have asked officials to undertake a distinct stream of work on modernising the regulation of affordable housing, particularly in the light of the increasing involvement of the private sector. Finally and relatedly, I have asked officials to carry out further work and analysis on the range of potential modernisation and structural options for reform.

I will make a further announcement in the autumn on my plans for creating a modern, dynamic delivery chain to support stronger communities and create places in which people feel proud to live.

The Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre (Targets 2006-07)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Angela E. Smith): Key Performance Targets have been agreed for The Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre for the period 1 April 2006 to 31 March 2007.

The agency's principal financial target for 2006-07 is to achieve a minimum dividend payment to the Department for Communities and Local Government of £1,500,000.

An operational target has been set to achieve room occupancy within the Centre of 70 per cent.

The agency also has the following quality of service targets:

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Reduced Ignition Propensity

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Angela E. Smith): Careless handling of smokers' materials continues to be one of the major causes of UK accidental fire deaths in the home. Evidence has shown that Reduced Ignition Propensity (REP) cigarettes decrease the risk of inducing ignition or progressive smouldering in materials, therefore reducing the number of accidental fire deaths in the home.

RIP cigarettes have been legislated for in New York State, California, Vermont, Illinois, New Hampshire and Massachusets and are all now in place, including Canada. The legislation requires that all cigarettes conform to American Society of Testing and Materials Standard (ASTM International).

At the request of the UK, supported by Sweden, the European Commission undertook to look into the case for developing an appropriate technical standard for RIP cigarettes. The Department for Communities and Local Government will be working very closely with the Department of Health which has led Government work on tobacco regulation, and the Department of Trade and Industry which leads on consumer product safety. It is expected that further discussion on the case for developing a European technical standard for REP cigarettes will take place at the next General Product Committee meeting in Brussels this September.

Planning Appeals

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Meg Munn): The majority of planning appeals in England are decided by inspectors, but a small percentage are decided by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, usually because the development is large and controversial (out of a total of 25,000 appeals, some 150 were recovered for decision by the Secretary of State last year). This statement sets out the Secretary of State's policy on recovering planning appeals and replaces the previous policy on which appeals are recovered for the Secretary of State's determination (which was set out in a House of Commons Hansard written answer for 25 July 2000). These changes are being made to achieve a greater focus on those cases which merit ministerial decision, and over time to lead to a reduction in the number of cases recovered and produce time savings in decision making.

In future the Secretary of State will consider recovery of appeals involving—

Any proposal for residential development of over 150 units or on sites of over five hectares, which would significantly impact on the Government's objective to secure a better balance between housing
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demand and supply and create high quality, sustainable, mixed and inclusive communities.

Proposals for development of major importance having more than local significance.

Proposals giving rise to substantial regional or national controversy.

Proposals which raise important or novel issues of development control, and/or legal difficulties.

Proposals which involve any main town centre use or uses (as set out in paragraph 1.8 of PPS6) where that use or uses comprise(s) over 9,000 sqm gross floorspace (either as a single proposal or as part of or in combination with other current proposals) and which are proposed on a site in an edge-of-centre or out-of-centre location (as described in Table 2 of PPS6) that is not in accordance with an up-to-date development plan document prepared in accordance with the policy in PPS6.

Proposals for significant development in the green belt.

Major proposals involving the winning and working of minerals.

Proposals against which another Government Department has raised major objections or has a major interest.

Cases which can only be decided in conjunction with a case over which inspectors have no jurisdiction (so-called “linked cases”).

There may on occasion be other cases which merit recovery because of the particular circumstances.

Water Efficiency Consultation

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Angela E. Smith): Members will be interested to know that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) will be jointly consulting on ways of making water efficiency mandatory, during the recess. The scope of the consultation will cover water efficiency in new homes, existing buildings and in respect of the domestic uses of non-household buildings. We are considering a range of measures including amendments to the Building Regulations 2000. There will be a slightly longer consultation than normal—four months rather than three—as we recognised the difficulty of consulting during a holiday period.

Copies of the consultation document will be available later in the year on both the DCLG and DEFRA websites and in the Libraries of both Houses. I will be writing separately to the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey), Chairman of the Communities and Local Government Committee.

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