4 Nov 2008 : Column 9WS

4 Nov 2008 : Column 9WS

Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 4 November 2008



The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms): The ECOFIN meets on Tuesday 4 November 2008. The following items are on the agenda:

Follow up to the European Council on 15 and 16 October: preparation of international initiatives in response to the financial crisis

Following on from the European Council, ECOFIN Ministers will prepare the discussion for Heads of Government when they meet again in European Council formation on 7 November. The discussion is likely to focus on reform of the international financial architecture, and will be on the basis of a paper prepared by the French presidency.

Taxation: reduced rates of VAT

At both the informal ECOFIN meeting in September and the formal meeting in October, Ministers held discussions on the principles underlying the application of reduced rates of VAT across the EU. Following the publication in July of a Commission proposal to allow reduced rates for a specified set of goods and services, the presidency has proposed a compromise text that Ministers will discuss. The UK believes that member states should be allowed the flexibility to apply reduced rates of VAT where they do not materially affect the functioning of the single market.

Combating VAT fraud

At the November ECOFIN, Ministers will discuss measures to speed up the collection and exchange of data on intra-community supplies between member states.

General arrangements for excise duty

Ministers will be asked to agree a general approach to the Directive on Holding and Movement of Excise Goods (92-12). The aim of the Commission’s proposal is to simplify and liberalise the rules on intra-community movements of goods (mainly alcohol) on which excise duty has already been paid in a member state.

Anti-fraud agreement with Liechtenstein

Ministers will discuss a draft EU-Liechtenstein anti-fraud agreement. The Commission will update Ministers on the progress of the negotiation, which it has been conducting under a mandate from the Council.

Climate change and stabilisation of allowance prices under the emissions trading scheme

At the request of Poland, which has prepared a contribution to the ECOFIN debate, Ministers will hold an exchange of views on potential price volatility in the emissions trading scheme. The President of the Economic Policy Committee will also outline the Committee’s discussions on the economic aspects of the proposals on climate change.

4 Nov 2008 : Column 10WS

Lisbon strategy

The presidency will inform ECOFIN Ministers about the multilateral surveillance work undertaken by the Economic Policy Committee on policies related to flexicurity that have been implemented in various member states. It will also touch on work in progress on the future of the Lisbon strategy post 2010.

Communities and Local Government


The Minister for Housing (Margaret Beckett): I am today announcing the second round of consultation on eco-towns, based on the draft Planning Policy Statement on eco-towns, and the accompanying sustainability appraisal which has been carried out for the policy and the shortlisted eco-town locations.

Eco-towns have been developed in response to two major challenges—the threat of climate change and the national housing shortage. They will pioneer more sustainable living so that we can learn the lessons for future developments and help meet housing need in areas where this shortage is particularly acute.

In April, we published a shortlist of proposed locations, alongside a consultation document “Living a Greener Future”. A progress report was published in July, to set out our emerging thinking on eco-town standards. The documents being published today are the next stage of consultation in delivering eco-towns successfully. They include an updated programme of shortlisted locations and a summary of responses to the earlier consultation. Copies of these documents will be deposited in the Library of the House and made available on the Department’s website at: www.communities.gov.uk/ecotowns.

The sustainability appraisal indicates that there remain some important outstanding issues that need to be addressed before the draft PPS and list of locations can be finalised. Issues of sustainability, viability and deliverability remain. The eco-town requirements are challenging and I do not expect that all locations will be endorsed. I have no fixed view on the number of locations that will go forward from this process and the next stages in this ongoing assessment and consultation process will ensure that the necessary further work is completed before decisions are taken.

Draft Planning Policy Statement

The draft Planning Policy Statement (PPS) sets out the standards for an eco-town and the planning policy context. The standards set out in this draft PPS are consistent with other relevant planning policies—including PPS1, PPS3 and PPS Planning and Climate Change. However, given our higher expectations for eco-towns, it goes further and sets the highest ever environmental standards for new development, reflecting the aspirations we described in the consultation document “Living a Greener Future”.

The standards set by the eco-towns PPS, on which we are now consulting are, as a package, considerably more stretching than existing standards for development. Eco-towns will be the UK’s first zero carbon towns: over a year the net carbon dioxide emissions from all energy use within the buildings, homes, commercial and public
4 Nov 2008 : Column 11WS
sector buildings on the developments will be zero or below. Achieving zero carbon status across all the town’s buildings will represent a significantly tougher threshold than current national targets, pioneering the way for our policies that new homes in England should be zero carbon from 2016, and our ambition that new non-domestic buildings should be zero carbon from 2019. For homes, the eco-towns standards go further, in requiring that they achieve carbon reductions (from space heating, hot water and fixed lighting) of at least 70 per cent. relative to current building regulations. At least 40 per cent. of the area of an eco-town will need to be greenspace—half of it publicly accessible and there are ambitious targets on waste and water. These ‘hard’ green targets are supported by targets designed to support and promote sustainable development and sustainable living more widely; for example, eco-towns will be unique in being built so that, except where there are natural barriers, no home will be further than 800m from a school for children aged under eleven and the design of the town will enable over half of all the trips originating in the town to be made without a car.

The draft PPS also sets out the planning process for eco-towns. Applications for eco-towns are to be considered in the same way as any other major development proposal. The development plan remains the starting point for the determination of these applications. However, where the plan is out of date then any application should be treated on its merits, taking into account all material considerations that include the PPS.

Sustainability Appraisal and the Eco-towns Programme

An Eco-towns Sustainability Appraisal (SA) report covering the draft PPS, and the programme, including the proposed eco-town locations is also being published today. The SA report, which has been carried out by consultants Scott Wilson, identifies and evaluates the likely impact of the proposals on the local economy, community and environment and considers reasonable alternatives. It also suggests measures for improving the proposals. Taking account of the sustainability appraisal, and of the effect of promoters withdrawing their schemes from the programme, we will be consulting on the following 12 shortlisted locations in this next stage. They have been assessed in the sustainability appraisal in three bands:

The shortlist includes two local authority schemes, proposed as reasonable alternatives in the course of the sustainability appraisal, at Rackheath (Norwich) and North-West Bicester (Cherwell). In the case of the two areas of further review identified in April, in Leeds city region we have agreed to pursue separately the local
4 Nov 2008 : Column 12WS
authorities’ proposal for an urban eco-community of similar scale which would pilot eco-town standards, while at Rushcliffe, the Newton/Bingham scheme has been included for consultation and assessment.


Public awareness and involvement is crucial to success in this programme. We want to make it as easy as possible for people to have their say in shaping these towns, particularly the first-time buyers, key workers and young families who will particularly benefit from the affordable housing. We have therefore set up a website at: www.direct.gov.uk/ecotowns. This both explains the eco-town concept, and invites comments and ideas through the consultation process. We will also be holding a series of roadshows in public spaces like shopping centres near to the proposed locations. These will be interactive exhibitions and will provide the chance for people to offer their comments and views.

Both the website and the roadshows will concentrate on explaining the national standards and policy. Local scheme promoters are responsible for carrying out full consultation on the individual schemes.


The papers published today provide an updated list and description of sites. In this context I wish to correct errors made in the written ministerial statement of 3 April 2008, Official Report columns 70-72WS, made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint). This stated that the majority of development planned for the proposed Curborough development, now withdrawn, would take place on brownfield land. This is incorrect—the majority of the site is on greenfield land. The statement also incorrectly referred to the Weston-Otmoor site as brownfield when it is mainly greenfield. I apologise to the House for these errors.

Finally I want to make clear that while eco-towns have a unique potential for innovation they are only one part of a much wider programme of creating more sustainable communities which can respond to the challenge of climate change. Shortly we will be consulting on the definition of zero carbon for the purposes of the Government’s policy that all new homes will be zero carbon from 2016. The Government also recognise the urgent need to tackle the energy efficiency of existing homes and will shortly be consulting on measures that could help develop this market as part of its review of energy efficiency strategy overall.

Energy and Climate Change

Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Mr. Mike O'Brien): The new Department of Energy and Climate Change has already signalled strong commitment to meeting the following three long-term challenges facing our country:

4 Nov 2008 : Column 13WS

We have already announced our commitment to achieve an 80 per cent. cut in carbon emissions by 2050. We have also tabled amendments to the Energy Bill to introduce feed-in tariffs for small scale low carbon electricity generation up to 3MW and financial support for renewable heat at all scales. We will be implementing these measures as quickly as possible.

We want to enable people to move from being passive users to active generators of energy. While the microgeneration definition in the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006, particularly in respect of heat generation, was of a scale more appropriate to households, we also want to see more schools, hospitals, communities and businesses invest in projects that will generate low carbon electricity and heat for their own use. This will allow more citizens to engage actively in the fight against climate change and increase our energy security.

In the first half of 2009 we will therefore launch our renewable energy strategy, and will bring forward our more detailed proposals on feed-in tariffs for small scale low carbon electricity and incentives for renewable heat. In the light of these decisions, we will be in a position to set out in detail the expected contribution of on-site generation alongside other kinds of electricity and heat generation.

Therefore at this stage, rather than designating targets within the narrower terms of the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006, we intend to bring forward broader proposals in the context of the Renewable Energy Strategy.


We are required under the Act to take account of the following information when making a decision:

In addition to the issues above, we have also considered:

Microgeneration Research

To assist consideration of whether or not it would be appropriate to designate a microgeneration target we commissioned research, jointly with industry and others, which was undertaken by Element Energy and published in June 2008. The research looked at the number of current installations of microgeneration technologies across the UK, consumer behaviour, the effect of designating targets and modelled a number of different policy support mechanisms and the effect that they might have on microgeneration uptake.

According to that research(1), setting targets for the microgeneration sector may bring forward cost reductions, through increasing confidence for suppliers and hence bringing forward investment. It notes that targets without policy backing have no value in bringing forward investment, but that targets backed up by policy could
4 Nov 2008 : Column 14WS
help to support investment. The report also states that a literature review and discussions with economists revealed that there is no clear evidence of price reductions of goods following the announcement of Government targets.

The research also states in section 14.2 that “a legally binding target in respect of numbers of microgeneration units installed does not on its own deliver in a clearly predictable manner Government priorities for reducing CO2 emissions from microgeneration”. It goes on to say that it is not “obvious how cost effective this approach might be, and whether the dominant technologies that emerge will be those with long term potential benefits”.

Number of microgeneration installations

Element Energy produced the following approximate information on microgeneration installations in the UK in their report “numbers of microgeneration units installed in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland”:

EnglandWalesScotlandNorthern IrelandUK

72,600 - 76,100

6,130 - 6,410

12,590 - 13,100

16,700 - 17,300

108,000 - 113,000

Next Section Index Home Page