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11 Mar 2008 : Column 226W—continued


Stephen Hesford: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent estimate he has made of the number of vegetarians living in England. [191286]

Jonathan Shaw: DEFRA does not hold the information requested and has no intention of doing so.

Communities and Local Government

Accidents: Heating

Mr. Jeremy Browne: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government how many (a) injuries and (b) deaths have occurred because of malfunctioning thermostats in homes in each of the last 10 years. [187823]

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Malcolm Wicks [holding answer 21 February 2008]: I have been asked to reply.

The Department stopped collecting accident statistics in the home in 2002. However, data on accidents in the home place prior to 2002 can be obtained from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA).

Community Centres: Rural Areas

Mr. Newmark: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what support her Department gives to rural communities for the maintenance and improvement of village halls and community centres. [189349]

Mr. Dhanda: I refer the hon. Member to the answer given by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw) on 28 February 2008, Official Report, column 873W.

Community Relations

Mr. Paul Goodman: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government when her Department plans to consider how recommendation 49 in Our Shared Future should be implemented. [190155]

Mr. Dhanda: We have yet to consider how this recommendation can be taken forward. However regional development agencies (RDAs), along with the Learning and Skills Council, Jobcentre Plus, the Skills for Business Network and a range of other stakeholders, are members of regional skills partnerships which are the vehicles for delivering the Government's strategy for skills in each English region. All partners have an existing duty to comply with equalities legislation and have developed robust procedures for monitoring and evaluating policy for their impact on individual groups.

Compost: Non-Domestic Rates

Robert Neill: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government pursuant to the answer to the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) of 29 January 2008, Official Report, column 227W, on compost: non-domestic rates, when the existing policy on valuing rateable composting facilities was introduced. [192320]

John Healey: Whether facilities or property is rateable or not for the purpose of non-domestic rates depends on the facts of the case and the relevant rating legislation. It falls to the Valuation Officer to determine the rateability— there is no specific policy case by case. The relevant section of the Valuation Office rating manual clarifying guidance on the valuation of non-exempt composting properties was published on 6 September 2007.

Council Tax: Coastal Areas

Mr. Steen: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what estimate she has made of the effect on levels of council tax of the national concessionary bus fares scheme in seaside unitary authorities. [193044]

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John Healey: The level of council tax is a matter for individual authorities. We expect the average council tax increase in England to be substantially below 5 per cent. We will not hesitate to use our capping powers as necessary to protect council tax payers from excessive increases.

Departmental Cost Effectiveness

Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what progress her Department has made in its zero-based budget review under the Comprehensive Spending Review. [191493]

Mr. Dhanda: I refer the hon. Member to the annex pertaining to my Department in “Meeting the aspirations of the British people: the 2007 Pre-Budget Report and Comprehensive Spending Review” (Cm 7227).

The Department published our “Value for Money Delivery Agreement” in January this year and this sets out how Communities and Local Government will achieve its target of at least £887 million VFM gains by March 2011.

Departmental Written Questions

Mike Penning: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government how many written questions to her Department had not received an answer as at 25 February 2008 for (a) between two and four, (b) between four and six, (c) between six and eight and (d) more than eight weeks; and how many in each category were tabled for named day answer. [193388]

Mr. Dhanda: In the period 6 November 2007 to 25 February 2008, Communities and Local Government received 1,891 written parliamentary questions, including 295 for answer on a named day. A breakdown in the form requested could not be provided without incurring disproportionate cost.

Domestic Wastes: Waste Disposal

Grant Shapps: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government whether a decision to move to fortnightly rubbish collections of household rubbish from weekly collections is a matter for the executive or the full council of a local authority in a local authority with a cabinet executive structure. [189535]

John Healey: Where a local authority operates executive arrangements under the Local Government Act 2000, all functions are the responsibility of the executive unless specified otherwise in the Local Authorities (Functions and Responsibilities) (England) Regulations 2000. The collection of household rubbish is not a matter which is specified in the regulations and therefore it is the responsibility of the executive, to the extent that the decision is within the authority's budget. Decisions to adopt or revise the budget are, under the regulations, matters for the full council.

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Floods: EU Grants and Loans

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what the status is of funding for which the Government has applied to the EU for emergency flood relief; whether the funding is additional to funding already allocated by the Government for this purpose; whether the EU funding will be spent on (a) recovery and (b) future flood prevention; and if she will make a statement. [192790]

John Healey: In August 2007 the UK Government applied for funding from the European Union Solidarity Fund to assist with recovery from the floods of 2007. On 10 December 2007, the EU announced that they were recommending that the UK receive €162.388 million, which will equate to around £110 million, since the exchange rate is fixed to the time of application. This recommendation was approved by the Budgetary Committee on 28 February 2008. We are currently working alongside the European Commission to draft the implementation agreement which will allow the money to be paid to the UK, and we expect to receive the money in spring.

The nature of the EUSF is that it is to reimburse emergency operations undertaken by public bodies, we have yet to make detailed decisions on how this money is to be spent.

The regulations that govern the EUSF are clear that the fund may only be spent on recovery from a disaster, and not on measures to prevent future disasters. We can therefore not use the EUSF to fund future flood prevention measures or on other improvement measures. Government have already announced that they will be investing over £2.15 billion on flood and coastal erosion risk management during the next three years.

Floods: Housing

Mr. Stewart Jackson: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what steps she is taking to ensure local authorities comply with Planning Policy Statement 25 in respect of the building of residential homes in high flood risk areas; and if she will make a statement. [192836]

Mr. Iain Wright: Since the publication of Planning Policy Statement 25 “Development and Flood Risk” (PPS25) in December 2006, we have held several rounds of workshops around England with local authorities and other key stakeholders and made presentations at relevant conferences, to explain the principles involved and how to apply them. We are planning a further round of workshops after we have published the final version of the Practice Guide to PPS25.

If local authorities are minded to approve planning applications for major residential development in flood risk areas against the advice of the Environment Agency, the 2007 flooding Direction (The Town and Country Planning (Flooding) (England) Direction 2007) allows the Secretary of State to check the compliance of the applications with PPS25 and consider calling them in for decision.

We also work closely with the Environment Agency to monitor the performance of local planning authorities in taking Environment Agency flood risk advice into account at the planning application stage.

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Housing: Elderly

Mr. Dai Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what discussions she has had with the Welsh Assembly Government on preparations for the national strategy for housing in an ageing society. [190231]

Mr. Iain Wright: The development of the Strategy, “Lifetime Homes, Lifetime Neighbourhoods: A National Strategy for Housing in an Ageing Society” published on 25 February, involved contributions from and discussions with different stakeholders and this included officials in the Welsh Assembly Government, who were visited in the earlier stages. Colleagues at the Welsh Assembly offered some important contributions to the development of this work, such as their pioneering work on rapid repairs and adaptations. My noble Friend Baroness Andrews also wrote to Jane Davidson, Minister for the Environment, Sustainability and Housing at the Welsh Assembly Government in January before publication regarding the strategy and I recently met Jocelyn Davies, Deputy Minister for Housing at the Welsh Assembly to discuss housing matters. We hope to continue this productive relationship.

Housing: Finance

John Cummings: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government how much her Department has allocated to the district of Easington under the Decent Homes funding proposal on the basis that East Durham Homes (a) achieves and (b) does not achieve a two-star rating for each of the next six years. [192573]

Mr. Iain Wright: A funding total of £116 million has been made available to the district of Easington for capital investment to deliver decent homes. The first annual allocation would be made when the ALMO East Durham Homes (EDH) achieves two stars at an Audit Commission inspection.

We have made available £45,000 in 2007-08 to district of Easington and EDH to help facilitate the required service performance improvements to enable the ALMO to be successful at inspection. If EDH does not receive a two star rating at the next inspection, no annual funding allocations would be made. The Department would need to review the ability of EDH to deliver the service performance improvements required, and hence a Decent Homes investment programme.

John Cummings: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what adjustment to funding from her Department to the district of Easington under the Decent Homes funding proposal between 2009 and 2014 there will be to take account of inflation (a) since the original arm's length management organisation submission was made by East Durham Homes in 2004 and (b) in each year between 2009 and 2014. [192575]

Mr. Iain Wright: The Department does not intend to make any adjustment for inflation to the Decent Homes funding available to the district of Easington.

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Housing: Lancashire

Geraldine Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what steps her Department is taking to improve housing in Morecambe. [192549]

Mr. Iain Wright: Regeneration in Morecambe is currently targeting the West End where a sustained period of redevelopment will increase owner occupation, reduce the rented sector, provide a more balanced community, improve physical environment and maximize the opportunity for local job creation.

A masterplan has been developed for the West End (Winning Back Morecambe’s West End); key partners include the city council, English Partnerships, the Housing Corporation and North West Development Agency. Its core objectives include to change the tenure mix in the area and to create more family accommodation.

The Housing Corporation is working positively with Lancaster city council and English Partnerships to deliver the strategy for Morecambe. Most recently they met Lancaster councillors to discuss a longer term the needs of Morecambe and an integrated strategy.

Future housing development in Morecambe will be determined through public consultation on the Lancaster District Core Strategy, which proposes the continuing regeneration of the town.

Housing: Low Incomes

Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in which local authority areas she expects all social housing to have been brought up to the decent homes standards by 2010; which local authorities are not on target to meet the standard by 2010; what estimate she has made of the additional spending required above current spending plans to enable all local authorities to reach the standard by 2010; and what steps her Department is taking to help local authorities to improve all non-decent social housing. [186844]

Mr. Iain Wright: A table providing details of local authority delivery dates for decent homes has been placed in the Library of the House.

Local authorities delivering beyond 2010-11 are those who have included major regeneration programmes in their plans which take time to complete, where they have taken time to find an agreed way forward or put plans in place and where the scale of their delivery programme is such that it needs to extend beyond 2010-11.

By 2010 we expect over £40 billion will have been spent on delivering decent homes across all social landlords.

We have not made any estimate of the increased cost to the public purse of requiring all local authorities to effectively bring forward works to meet the decent homes standard by 2010 where they have programmes that extend beyond this date.

Government offices will continue to work with those few local authorities who have not finalised their delivery options.

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Where delivery is through an arm’s length management organisation (ALMO) additional capital funding is dependent on the ALMO receiving a 2 star Audit Commission inspection report on its housing management services. The Department is prepared to consider providing some financial support to local authorities where that has not been achieved to help facilitate the required service performance improvements.

Housing: Regional Planning and Development

Michael Fabricant: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what account her Department plans to take of the core principles of the West Midlands Regional Spatial Strategy set out in paragraphs 3.4 and 3.14 in the development of its strategy for housing in the region. [191033]

Mr. Dhanda: The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has appointed an independent panel to consider the West Midlands regional spatial strategy (RSS) phase 2 revision which sets out planned levels of housing development for the West Midlands. The panel will need to consider and test the proposals set out in the revised draft submission as prepared by the regional planning body as well as any additional evidence relating to this at the examination in public of the RSS phase 2 revision.

My noble Friend Baroness Andrews has requested the Government office for the West Midlands to commission work to look at housing options which could deliver higher housing numbers than those set out in the phase 2 revision. This additional work will be evidence to be considered by the panel at the examination in public alongside the draft RSS submission document.

In asking for this additional work to be undertaken, my noble Friend Baroness Andrews was clear in her letter to the West Midlands regional assembly that she does not wish to fundamentally question the spatial strategy for the region in advance of the public examination. However, she is also concerned that the very rigid applications of some of the principles of the spatial strategy may be unnecessarily constraining longer-term development with implications on affordability of housing. This will also be an issue for the panel to consider.

At this stage, it is inappropriate for the Secretary of State to comment on emerging proposals for housing development and the evidence underpinning these in advance of the examination in public as these matters need to be independently tested. Furthermore, as the Secretary of State has a statutory role in the issuing of the final RSS, any comments at this stage on the merits of emerging proposals could prejudice her future decision-making role.

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