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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Parmjit Dhanda): My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for the Department of Communities and Local Government is today laying before the House a copy of the Planning Inspectorates Annual Report and Accounts for 2007-08.
The report gives an overview of the performance of the inspectorate and demonstrates the importance of a credible, accessible planning tribunal service that is open, transparent and impartial. It also highlights the ways in which the inspectorate is supporting the Governments drive for a faster and fairer planning system.
The report reveals that the planning inspectorate in England hit 25 per cent. more of its key performance targets this year. In addition, it significantly reduced the backlog of its oldest cases. The inspectorate had also halved the waiting time for setting public inquiry dates for planning appeals to just 10 weeks by the end of the year.
In Wales the planning inspectorate has again performed to a high standard meeting all but one of its ministerial targets. The total number of planning appeal decisions has increased by nearly 4 per cent. since 2006-07. My noble Friend Baroness Andrews has agreed with Jane Davidson AM, Minister for Environment Sustainability and Housing for the Welsh Assembly Government, that the inspectorates targets for its main areas of casework in 2008-09 should remain unchanged.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Parmjit Dhanda): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is today publishing proposed changes to the draft revisions to the regional spatial strategy for the South East (The South East Plan).
The regional spatial strategy forms part of the statutory development plan for every local authority in the South East, and sets the framework for the production of local development frameworks and local transport plans. It provides the spatial plan for the development of the region, providing the policy framework for employment, housing, transport and the environment over the next 20 years.
The current strategy, initially published as regional planning guidance, became the regional spatial strategy in September 2004 with the enactment of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act. A draft revision of the regional spatial strategy was submitted to Government in March 2006 by the South East England Regional Assembly. It was subsequently tested in an examination in public (EIP) between December 2006 and March 2007 and the report of the independent panel which conducted the examination was published in August 2007.
The Secretary of State has considered the recommendations of the independent panel and has taken into account the representations made on the draft revision and any recent changes in Government policy.
Todays publication of the Secretary of States proposed changes represents the commencement of a public consultation period which will close on 24 October 2008. Also being published for comment are the reports of a sustainability appraisal and a habitats regulations assessment of the proposed changes. A non-technical summary is available of these documents.
Following consideration of the responses to consultation, the Secretary of State expects to be able to publish the
finalised regional spatial strategy for the South East by the end of the year. On final publication it will supersede the current RSS.
I have written to the chairman of the regional assembly to give notice of the publication of the proposed changes and thanked the assembly and its staff for their hard work in preparing the draft revisions.
Copies will be provided for all of the regions MPs, MEPs and local authorities, and sent to all those who participated in the EIP and other interested parties and organisations required by the regulations.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Parmjit Dhanda): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will be publishing the final revision of the regional spatial strategy for the North West of England in late August or early September. On publication it will supersede the current RSS. Also to be published are the reports of a consolidated sustainability appraisal, a habitats regulations assessment and sustainability statement.
The published regional spatial strategy will form part of the statutory development plan for every local authority in the North West, and set the framework for the production of local development frameworks and local transport plans. It will provide the spatial plan for the development of the region, and the policy framework for employment, housing, transport and the environment.
The current strategy, initially published as regional planning guidance, became the regional spatial strategy in September 2004 with the enactment of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act. A draft revision of the regional spatial strategy was submitted to Government in January 2006 by the North West regional assembly. It was subsequently tested in an examination in public between November 2006 and February 2007, and the report of the independent panel which conducted this examination was published in May 2007. The Secretary of State considered the recommendations of this independent panel, and took into account the representations made on the draft revision, and also changes in Government policy since the draft revision was submitted, before publishing proposed changes for further public consultation between March and May 2008.
On publication, a further statement and copies of the relevant documents will be available in the Libraries of both Houses and copies sent to the regions MPs and MEPs, members of the Opposition Front Bench and local authorities.
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Hazel Blears):
Tomorrow I shall be announcing a package of measures to further our work on preventing violent extremism, concerned with building
better connections with local places; fostering community leadership and improving theological understanding.
The launch of Preventing Violent Extremism: Next Steps for Communities, at Manchester town hall, will fulfil a public commitment that we made in our April 2007 Winning Hearts and Minds action plan to provide an update on the progress of our work and to articulate Communities and Local Governments future priorities on Prevent.
Lord Patel of Bradford undertook some work for me visiting a number of local authorities across the country and a wide range of stakeholders. We will continue to reflect on Lord Patels findings over summer 2008 alongside other review and evaluation work on the Prevent being undertaken across Government. We will set out our conclusions and the further action we propose to take to help develop community approaches later this year.
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Hazel Blears): I am today publishing Transforming Places, changing lives: a framework for regeneration. This document sets out an ambitious package of proposalsfor consultationthat aim to shape the way that regeneration is carried out in future in England. Publishing the framework fulfils a commitment from the 2007 sub-national review of economic development and regeneration.
The framework contains a renewed focus on ensuring that regeneration tackles the underlying economic challenges to increase social mobility and support people to reach their potential, regardless of where they live. Specifically, the measures proposed aim to:
ensure that regeneration investment is co-ordinated and prioritised in the right places, with public, private, and third sector organisations working together in the same places towards a shared vision;
devolve powerdecisions about where to invest should be made as locally as possible, so this framework proposes an approach to prioritisation that starts with communities and their councils, and aims to align investment behind local and regional regeneration prioritiesmaking programmes fit places, not places fit programmes; and
focus regeneration investment on tackling the underlying economic challenges that hold places back, in particular supporting people to get a job and then progress within the labour market as well as boosting levels of enterprise in those areas.
improving economic performance in the areas that have not yet made the same progress as other areas;
improving rates of work and enterprise in these areas; and
creating sustainable places where people want to live and can work, and businesses want to invest.
The consultation is accompanied by an impact assessment. Copies have been placed in the House Library or it can be accessed via the Communities and Local Government website at: www.communities.gov.uk/publications/citiesandregions/transformingplaces.
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham): Following the announcement the Secretary of State for Health and I made on 6 June 2008, I am today setting out further details of the Governments free swimming scheme in partnership with local government. This cross-Government announcement set out a £140 million package comprising contributions from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department of Health, the Department for Children, Schools and Families, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Communities and Local Government.
The Government are keen to encourage as many local authorities as possible to participate in making swimming free for over 60s and under 16s in their local communities, but also to stimulate ambitious authorities to maximise and sustain uptake through other initiatives such as free lessons for adults who cannot swim, the introduction of swimming co-ordinators and to provide incentives for the most ambitious to move further towards a universal free swimming offer.
We hope this statement will give local authorities the information they need to start planning for their budget setting cycle and to decide the extent to which they wish to exploit the opportunities offered by the scheme to improve the health and well-being of their communities and support delivery of local priorities as set out in their respective local area agreements.
Swimming is the most popular participation activity for the over 60s, with 7 per cent. taking part in swimming at least once a month. Swimming has the same health benefits as other forms of physical activity. Additionally, regular swimming builds endurance, muscle strength and cardio-vascular fitness and, as a low impact activity, is ideal for the elderly and those recovering from injury. The Government are keen to encourage as many local authorities as possible to participate in making swimming free for over 60s in their area. To achieve this, central Government is making available £15 million per annum in 2009-10 and 2010-11.
The Government will write at the start of next week to the chief executives of all local authorities in England which are responsible for leisure services to ask them to confirm, by no later than 15 September 2008, whether they wish to take up this offer. This letter will set out the resource funding the local authority will be allocated from pot 1 in 2009-10 and 2010-11 if it chooses to participate. This allocation is calculated according to a simple formula based on the size of the local over-60 population. Funding will be distributed through a specific grant, details of which will be set out in the letter to local authorities.
The qualifying criteria for the scheme are simple. Free swimming for the over 60s means that people in that age group who wish to swim at any time throughout
the year when they would normally be admitted to the pool for public swimming, and in accordance with local programming, should not be charged.
Authorities who already offer free swimming that would otherwise have qualified for this funding may deploy their allocation to fund initiatives that will further increase and sustain participation for the over 60s and extend such measures to wider groups of the population.
Swimming remains a popular activity for children, with 38 per cent. of 11 to 16-year-olds participating in swimming in and out of school at least once a month. The Government are keen to extend the principle of making swimming free to the under 16s. To support this, central Government are making available £25 million per annum in 2009-10 and 2010-11.
All local authorities who choose to participate in pot 1 are also invited to submit, no later than 15 September 2008, an expression of interest to make swimming free for under 16s. For these authorities, details of their prospective allocation from pot 2 will be provided no later than 30 September 2008. They will then be invited to confirm, by no later than 15 October 2008, whether they wish to take up this offer. Funding will again be distributed through a specific grant.
As for the over 60s, we have made the qualifying criteria for the scheme simple. Free swimming for the under 16s means that people in that age group who wish to swim out of normal school hours throughout the year when they would normally be admitted to the pool for public swimming, and in accordance with local programming, should not be charged.
Again, local authorities who already offer free swimming that would otherwise have qualified for this funding may deploy their allocation to fund initiatives which will further increase and sustain participation for the under 16s and extend such measures to wider groups of the population.
We hope that local authorities will work creatively with local partners, including primary care trusts, to access funds from other sources such as the working neighbourhoods fund, extending activities and the Big Lottery Fund, as well as from the private sector.
To support local authorities in making swimming free for the over 60s and under 16s, we are also making available £10 million of capital funding in 2008-09 to modernise pool provision. All authorities that sign up to participate in pot 1 and pot 2 will be entitled to a one-off capital grant in 2008-09.
Local authorities have welcomed the opportunity to refurbish and modernise pool provision. Central Government are also making available £25 million capital per annum in 2009-10 and 2010-11 to modernise pool provision and support more ambitious plans for free swimming.
Sport England will administer the capital challenge fund on behalf of the Government, and will publish a prospectus for bids for funding by 31 July 2008. Local
authorities which have committed to pot 1 and pot 2 will be invited to submit costed plans for pot 4 by no later than 15 October 2008.
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