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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 18 December 2006

Communities and Local Government

Pathfinder (Birmingham Sandwell)

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): The Government will make available up to £44.41 million in grant to the Birmingham Sandwell pathfinder in 2007-08.

Some £3.2 million will be allocated for the remainder of 2006-07 in addition to the £12 million interim grant provided earlier this year and, subject to the availability of resources, £29.2 million will be awarded for 2007-08.

Over the next two years, this funding will help achieve the pathfinder’s objectives to retain the more economically active of its residents at the same time as continuing to provide for and stabilise its growing population.

Building Regulations

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Angela E. Smith): Today I have laid a statutory instrument, “The Building and Approved Inspectors (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/3318)”, which amends part B (fire safety) of the building regulations.

The building regulations set design standards for new and altered buildings. These changes will affect future building work in England and Wales, (typically the erection, extension or material alteration of a building) and how fire safety is designed into a building. Separate legislation applies in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The main legislative changes are the introduction of a new regulation 16B to require the provision of fire safety information to the “responsible person” in respect of those buildings covered by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and a revised B3(3) (internal fire spread (structure)) which gives explicit recognition to the use of automatic fire suppression systems, such as sprinklers.

Guidance on how the functional requirements of the part B may be met in practice is given in approved document B. In support of the new legislation, I arranged for the publication of a new version of the guidance in approved document B which, as requested by stakeholders, particularly small businesses, has been split into “Volume 1: Dwellinghouses and Volume 2: Buildings other than Dwellinghouses”.

The changes to the guidance address a wide range of issues, including the use of sprinklers and door-closing devices, changes to the guidance on domestic loft conversions, introduction of a maximum unsprinklered compartment size for single storey warehouses, new guidance on residential care homes and increased measures to assist firefighters dealing with fires in tall buildings.

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Protecting people from fire in their homes and workplaces remains a key element of Government policy on fire safety. The review looked at fire safety in all types of premises including dwellings, residential care homes, public buildings and warehouses. It also considered the important role sprinklers and other types of fire protection measures may have, particularly in buildings where the occupants are most at risk.

New provisions must be evidence-based and fully justified and taken forward in a robust and efficient manner. The review that led to these changes drew upon recent experience of actual fires. It took account of the findings of relevant research and the results of discussions with industry and other interested parties over several years, culminating in a full public consultation.

This package represents better defined and more efficient regulation that will deliver real benefits for both occupants and firefighters alike. A final regulatory impact assessment detailing the impacts of the fire safety aspects of the package has been published alongside the statutory instrument and approved documents, as have a number of relevant research reports.

My officials will be participating in a number of events, conferences, seminars and workshops in the new year to inform people of the changes prior to their coming into force on 6 April 2007.

The changes to the building regulations also include the authorisation of several new competent persons self-certification schemes that will enhance compliance, particularly in respect of the energy efficiency requirements of the regulations, and a number of other minor amendments, which will come into force on 15 January.

Copies of the approved documents will be placed in the Library of the House; and the final regulatory impact assessment on the fire safety changes will be placed in the House of Commons Vote Office and the House of Lords Print and Paper Office. They can also be accessed via the Communities and Local Government website at: www.communities.gov.uk/buildingregs. The supporting research reports can be accessed via: www.bre.co.uk/adb. Printed copies of the approved documents can be purchased from RIBA bookshops.

Mineral Permissions

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Meg Munn): I have today issued a consultation document on “The application of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive to ‘stalled’ Reviews of Old Mineral Permissions and Periodic Reviews of Mineral Permissions in England”. This seeks comments on proposals for amending regulations relating to England to, first, deal with initial reviews of old mineral planning permissions which are undetermined and so “stalled” for want of environmental information. Secondly, comments are sought on proposals to apply sanctions to make the application of the environmental impact assessment directive to all reviews of mineral planning permissions as effective as possible. Similar amending regulations are being proposed in relation to Wales.

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The proposed regulations would put beyond doubt that the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (England and Wales) Regulations 1999, as amended by the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2000 (the 2000 regulations), which include a sanction of suspension of operations for failing to provide the necessary environmental information, apply to stalled applications for initial reviews of old mineral permissions. These applications were submitted before the 2000 regulations came into force, and some have not been determined because necessary environmental information has not been provided.

Many mineral sites are operating under permissions granted many years ago which contained few, if any, conditions to mitigate the impact of mineral extraction. Uniquely within the planning system, legislation was introduced in the 1990s to review and update to modern environmental standards these old permissions which can last for many decades and to regularly review all mineral permissions. At that time, it was assumed that, because the reviews did not grant consent but merely updated mineral operating conditions, there was no need to apply the environmental impact assessment directive. However, subsequent court judgments established that conditions reviews did constitute “development consent” as defined in the directive, which had not, therefore, been fully transposed. Consequently, the 2000 regulations were introduced to apply the environmental impact assessment directive to these reviews.

Guidance issued with the regulations advised that they applied only to applications for review made after the 2000 regulations came into force on 15 November 2000. Operators of sites with applications for initial review which had not been determined by that date were asked to submit any necessary environmental information voluntarily. Most did so. But there are around 40 such applications in England which are “stalled” for a variety of reasons, including some where operators are refusing to provide environmental information when requested to do so by mineral planning authorities. There is currently no sanction to encourage them to do so and at active sites operations can continue under the terms of the original permissions with little or no mitigation of the environmental impacts.

Subject to consultation comments, the proposed amending regulations would apply the sanction of suspension for continuing failure to provide the necessary environmental information and so help to conclude these reviews and bring operations up to modern standards.

The consultation paper also proposes further sanctions to apply to all reviews of mineral permissions for failure to provide necessary environmental information. These are:

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Copies of the consultation paper have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The paper is also available on the Communities and Local Government website at: http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=l505253. The consultation period ends on 12 March 2007.

Constitutional Affairs

Boundary Commissions for England and Wales

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice): My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor has made the following written ministerial statement:

The Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act 2004

The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Ms Harriet Harman): My noble and learned Friend the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, has made the following written ministerial statement:

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Electoral Administration Act

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice): The Electoral Administration Act received Royal Assent on 11 July 2006. The Act aims to tackle four areas at the core of a healthy democracy by improving access, improving confidence, extending openness and transparency of party financing and maintaining professional delivery of elections.

A third of the Act was commenced in September 2006. This second commencement order commences the vast majority of the remaining provisions within the Electoral Administration Act, including:

These provisions, while coming into force on 1 January 2007, will not apply to any elections between 1 January 2007 and 3 May 2007.

Provisions relating to anonymous registration and observers, while commenced from 1 January 2007, will not take effect until June 2007 and 31 January 2007 respectively.

The only sections that will not be commenced relate to:

The Government are committed to improving access and engagement in the democratic process. Increased registration is one way to achieve this. Some 3.5 million people entitled to vote are not registered. We have therefore commenced provisions that allow anonymous registration for a person who believes that having their name and address on the register would put at risk the safety of themselves, or others in their household. In addition, people will now be able to register 11 days before the poll, whereas in the past the deadline was between six to eight weeks before the poll.

We have also brought into force a requirement for all persons applying to vote by post or proxy to provide their signature and date of birth. At elections, postal voters must provide these identifiers on their postal voting statement when they cast their vote. The Government believe this, along with the introduction
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of new election offences, represents a comprehensive set of legislative changes that will improve confidence in the electoral system.

The Forfeiture Rule and the Law of Succession

The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Ms Harriet Harman): The Under-Secretary of State, my noble Friend Baroness Ashton of Upholland, has made the following written ministerial statement:

Mental Capacity Act 2005

The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Ms Harriet Harman): My right hon. and noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Baroness Ashton of Upholland has made the following written ministerial statement:

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