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Hemel Hempstead is one of 21 urban areas identified in the Secretary of State’s proposed changes to the East of England plan, the regional strategy, as “Key Centres for Development and Change” at which
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additional development will be focused. The proposed changes include a requirement for an additional 12,000 homes in Dacorum, including expansion of Hemel Hempstead.

As part of the comprehensive spending review outcomes, the Government announced £1.7 billion of investment in the growth areas, growth points and eco-towns over the CSR period. Local authorities in existing growth areas and growth points were invited to prepare programmes of development setting out what additional infrastructure and other funding they sought from Government to support housing delivery over the next three years (2008-2011). In view of the housing targets set out in the Secretary of State’s proposed changes Dacorum borough council was invited to submit a programme of development for the support it would require to deliver the proposed housing growth, with the intention that, subject to the final RSS, Dacorum would be brought into the growth areas programme to allow it to receive infrastructure and delivery support from the growth fund.

On 4 December, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing announced £732 million for local authorities in growth areas and growth points for infrastructure to support housing growth. Based on its submitted programme of development, Dacorum borough council has received a provisional award of £2,554,062 capital and £159,377 revenue in 2008-09, and an indicative provisional award of £3,575,687 capital and £239,034 revenue for the period 2009-10 to 2010-11. In line with Local Government White Paper principles, the Government’s new approach to growth funding gives local authorities flexibility in how they use the funding they receive, so it can be used where they judge it will be most effective. This provisional funding award is subject to Dacorum being brought into the growth areas as a result of the final form of the regional spatial strategy.

The hon. Member for St. Albans (Anne Main) recently asked about the re-opening of the Buncefield site. In his reply the Minister of State for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform stated that the Buncefield site is of strategic importance for the supply of aviation fuel to Heathrow and Gatwick airports. He stated that a number of applications for planning permission to restore operations at the Buncefield site had been submitted to Dacorum borough council and that at these had yet to be determined (26 November 2007, Official Report, column 119W).

On 29 November, Dacorum borough council’s development control committee considered these applications. The committee resolved that decisions on five of the six applications considered should be delegated to officials with a view to planning permission being approved, subject to completion of a planning obligation under section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Approval would be for storage and supply of aviation fuel only. The planning obligations would restrict storage and supply of ground fuels until a future date. Negotiations on the planning obligations are a matter for Dacorum and the oil companies, on which it would be inappropriate to comment. Similarly, the future use and development of the Buncefield site is matter for the oil companies and, in the first instance, Dacorum borough council, to whom applications for planning permission would be made.

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The Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency are statutory consultees in the planning process and will ensure the planning authority has expert advice should applications be made. They are also joint competent authorities for major hazard sites, regulated under the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations, before operations were able to resume the site operators would have to satisfy these authorities that the site would adhere to the highest operating standards.


Autumn Performance Report

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): I have today placed in the Library of the House copies of the Ministry of Defence’s Autumn Performance Report. This shows that the Armed Forces, supported by their civilian colleagues, continue to achieve our highest priority: success on operations, particularly those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Summer 2007 Floods (Interim Report)

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): I would like to report to the House that this morning Sir Michael Pitt published his interim independent report on the flooding that affected large areas of England in June and July this year.

Sir Michael’s final report will be published next summer following a further period of consultation with the public and interested organisations. As a result of the good progress already made, the Government have agreed with him that the remit for his review should be formally extended to cover the recovery arrangements put in place following the floods.

The Government welcome publication of this interim report and acknowledge the hard work that Sir Michael and his team have put into its publication to meet the timetable and terms of reference which we set. Sir Michael took evidence from a range of individuals and organisations, including people affected by the flooding, the emergency services, local MPs and councillors, local authorities, Government Departments and agencies, academics and the private sector. As well as many individual local reviews, separate national reviews have or are also being undertaken by, among others, the Environment Agency, the Local Government Association, the Association of British Insurers, the fire and rescue service and the water industry. I also know, and welcome, the considerable interest that Members have taken in relation to the floods, including the current inquiry by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee.

The House knows of the severe impact on those people and businesses whose lives were turned upside down by this summer’s floods and the costs that have been borne by them, insurers and the Government. While many people have now been able to return to
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their homes, some are still living in temporary accommodation while repairs continue. They are bearing their ordeal with considerable fortitude and I know that the thoughts of Members will be with them this Christmas and into the new year. Our particular sympathies are, of course, with the families of those who lost their lives during the floods.

The interim report confirms the extreme nature of the weather that gave rise to the floods and acknowledges the efforts that were made by everyone in responding. It identifies a number of urgent steps which it recommends should be taken straight away. These relate particularly to monitoring of specific flood risks, better information sharing and the practicalities of emergency response. The Government agree with all of the urgent recommendations and will work with all organisations involved in taking them forward as quickly as possible.

The report also sets out 72 interim conclusions, on which Sir Michael is seeking views before he publishes his final report. The Government will carefully consider these and respond to him. However, we are already taking action to address a number of the key issues raised in the report, including:

A broader range of other work is in progress, under our “Making Space for Water” strategy, to ensure that our long term approach to managing flood and coastal erosion risk is sustainable and takes full account of climate change. As part of this, a series of pilot studies is under way to investigate integrated approaches to urban drainage management and improved resilience of properties.

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The House will know that the Government are committed to increasing investment in flood and coastal erosion risk management. It will rise from its current level of £600 million to £650 million in 2008-09, £700 million in 2009-10 and £800 million in 2010-11. We are establishing new outcome measures to secure best value for investment and, through the Environment Agency, are considering whether a long-term investment strategy for the next 20 years is appropriate for this policy area.

Successive Governments have invested substantially in improving flood defences over many years and there have also been significant advances in flood warning and emergency planning. It is worthwhile recording that the Environment Agency estimate that these defences protected 100,000 properties from flooding this summer. The agency also state that, while some permanent defences were overwhelmed, in only nine locations was the defence structurally damaged, five of these after being overtopped, and that none of these failures made property flooding worse. Defences also protected many properties from flooding during last month’s east coast tidal surge.

I will report further to the House in due course.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

General Affairs and External Relations Council (10 December 2007)

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and Kim Darroch (UK Permanent Representative to the EU) represented the UK at the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) in Brussels. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas) also attended for discussion of Economic Partnership Agreements.

The agenda items covered were as follows:

General Affairs

Preparation of the European Council on 14 December

The Council discussed the presidency’s draft European Council Conclusions. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary intervened, together with other member states, to press for a positive and forward looking declaration on globalisation, conclusions language on Burma and for a firm commitment that the EU should take stock of progress on the Millennium Development Goals at the European Council’s meeting in June 2008.

The European Council was also expected to welcome the signature of the Lisbon treaty on 13 December and agree to set up a reflection group to discuss ways to address the EU’s longer-term challenges.

2007 Enlargement Package

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary intervened to stress the importance of reaffirming our accession commitments. The Council Conclusions reiterate the December 2006 Conclusions setting out EU consensus on enlargement. This is based on consolidation of existing commitments, rigorous conditionality and improved communication on the benefits of enlargement. The
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Council agreed that chapters for which technical preparations have been completed will be opened, and reaffirmed that the pace of negotiations depends on accession states making the necessary reforms. The Council looks forward to the Accession Conferences with Turkey and Croatia next week. This demonstrates that the accession negotiations continue to make progress.

External Relations

European Neighbourhood Policy

External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner briefed the Council on the Commission’s Communication of 5 December on the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and work in taking forward the policy, including on economic integration and market access.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary intervened to welcome the Commission’s work on ENP as a framework for supporting our ENP partners in implementing their political and economic reforms including in the Middle East and Moldova.

Economic Partnership Agreements

Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson briefed the Council on progress in negotiations on Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.

The Council agreed a draft regulation on market access aimed at enacting the provisions of interim EPAs with certain ACP countries. This opens duty and quota-free access to the Community market, with improvements to the previous rules of origin provided for by the ACP-EU Cotonou partnership agreement, to those ACP countries that have initialled agreements with the Community that are compatible with World Trade Organisation rules.

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development intervened to support the EPAs process while setting out the Government’s continued concerns about non-least developed countries that have yet to initial an agreement, encouraging flexibility in the EU’s approach to these countries and asking that time be made for further discussion. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development is making a separate, fuller, statement on EPAs.

Western Balkans

Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger, EU representative of the Troika (EU, Russia and US), briefed the Council on the outcome of the Troika process, which had ended without agreement between Belgrade and Pristina on Kosovo’s future status. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary intervened to underline the importance of the EU taking on its responsibilities and moving forward to a resolution of the Kosovo issue.

The Council also adopted conclusions supporting the Western Balkans EU perspective and encouraging further progress on key reforms to allow the region to move forward from the conflicts of the 1990s.

Middle East Peace Process

Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, briefed the Council on the challenges following Annapolis and on the Palestinian Government’s Reform and Development Plan.

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The Council adopted Conclusions, which the Government support, welcoming the Annapolis meeting and the understanding between President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert, to immediately launch bilateral negotiations with a view to concluding a peace treaty by the end of 2008. The Council Conclusions underline the EU’s support for security through the early re-engagement and expansion of the EU Police Mission in the West Bank (EUPOL COPPS). The Council also underlined its commitment to work with international partners in supporting the Paris Donors’ Conference on 17 December in assisting economic development in the region post-Annapolis.

The Council adopted conclusions on Lebanon reiterating the importance of political parties reaching agreement on a presidential candidate through consensus and dialogue.


The Council discussed the situation in Burma in light of ongoing work in the UN by Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari and special rapporteur on human rights, Sergio Pinheiro.

The Council noted the appointment of Piero Fassino as EU special envoy to Burma on 6 November and reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to supporting UN-led efforts to promote dialogue in Burma.


The Council discussed the EU's planned military operation in Chad/Central African Republic. Several member states indicated that they were considering providing further contributions.

The Council adopted conclusions reaffirming the EU’s support for the ongoing efforts of the UN and the African Union to achieve a sustainable peace settlement in Darfur, including through mediation of the talks process begun in Sirte on 27 October. The conclusions also call on the parties to do all they can to ensure prompt deployment of an effective AU-UN peacekeeping force, UNAMID, which will assume authority from the current AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS) by 31 December 2007.

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