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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): My noble Friend the Minister of State for the Department for Transport, Lord Adonis, has made the following Ministerial Statement.
I have today published an addendum to the Department for Transports consultation on proposed amendments to the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligations Order 2007 (SI 3072) to slow down the rate of increase of the
Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) and to add two new fuels to the renewable fuels eligible for certificates under the scheme, launched on 15 October. This addendum proposes additional amendments to rectify a discrepancy recently identified in the 2007 Order and to delete provisions from the Order as a consequence of changes to the Hydrocarbon Oil Duties Act 1979 made by the Finance Act 2008.
The discrepancy concerns the definition of relevant hydrocarbon oil in the Order. This definition identifies the category of fossil fuel which must be taken into account when determining whether a supplier is subject to the RTFO and if so, how many certificates showing supply of renewable fuel the supplier must produce. The intention was that the definition of relevant hydrocarbon oil should include fossil fuel that is blended with biodiesel or bioethanol as well as fossil fuel that is supplied unblended and this is how the Order has been interpreted by the Renewable Fuels Agency and suppliers. However, the current drafting of the definition does not include fossil fuel that is blended with biodiesel or bioethanol before it passes the point at which the requirement to pay duty takes effect. This means that only fossil fuel that is supplied separately from biodiesel or bioethanol or is blended after it passes the duty point can be counted.
The addendum I have published today proposes additional changes to the 2007 Order to rectify this discrepancy so that the fossil fuel component of bioblend and bioethanol blend supplied from the beginning of the next RTFO obligation period, April 2009, will count towards the obligation. Due to the constraints of the primary legal powers we will not be able to amend the Order retrospectively to change the definition for this obligation year and the department is advising fuel suppliers of this fact.
The consultation period for the addendum is shorter than normal and ends on 17 December, the date that the consultation launched on 15 October ends. Any amendments to the RTFO Order are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure and the shorter consultation period is necessary to ensure that the amendments can be included in a single draft Order which can be laid and debated in Parliament before it is made to come into force in April 2009. The nature of the amendments is such that a shorter consultation period is appropriate. The amendments to deal with the discrepancy give effect to what was previously thought to be the meaning of the Order and the other amendments are purely consequential and do not change the meaning of the Order.
The content of this addendum does not affect any of the other issues which are the subject of the consultation launched on 15 Octoberproposals on slowing down the rate of increase of the RTFO and on the addition of two, new, eligible renewable fuels under the scheme. The Government remains committed to ensuring that UK biofuels policy promotes development of a sustainable biofuels industry, by proceeding with caution until the wider environmental and social impacts of biofuels are better understood.
In the early hours of Sunday 11 December 2005, a number of explosions occurred at Buncefield oil storage depot, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire. At least one of the initial explosions was of massive proportions and there was a large fire, which engulfed a significant proportion of the site. More than 40 people were injured, although fortunately there were no fatalities. Damage occurred to both commercial and residential properties in the vicinity and a large area around the site was evacuated on emergency service advice. The fire burned for several days, destroying most of the site and emitting large clouds of black smoke into the atmosphere. The damage to the site and the escape of the stored fuel, plus large quantities of fire-fighting materials, resulted in contamination of the groundwater in the vicinity of the site by fuel, fuel-related contaminants and surfactants needed to control the fire.
Following the explosion, a Major Incident Investigation Board (MIIB), independently chaired by Lord Newton of Braintree, was established and has overseen an extensive investigation into the causes of the accident and ways to avoid or mitigate against similar incidents in the future. The MIIB has now published eight reports, four of which were progress reports, with the other four setting out findings and making recommendations concerning The Design and Operation of Fuel Storage Sites, Emergency Preparedness for, Response to and Recovery from Incidents, The Explosion Mechanism Advisory Group Report and Land Use Planning and the Control of Societal Risk around Major Hazard Sites. The recommendations are aimed mainly at site operators and the COMAH Competent Authority but there are also recommendations for various Government Departments to consider arising out of the findings and recommendations on emergency preparedness and land use planning.
I am pleased to announce to the House that I have today placed in its Libraries a report detailing the Governments and the Competent Authoritys response to the MIIB reports Design and Operation of Fuel Storage Sites, and Emergency Preparedness for, Response to and Recovery from Incidents.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Lord Newton and his board for their very thorough reports, which will lead to improved safety, environmental protection and resilience at and around major hazard sites.
Overall, I can report that good progress has been made against the recommendations. With regard to the MIIB report on Design and Operation of Fuel Storage Sites, both the Competent Authoritycomprising the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Environment Agency and Scottish Environment Protection Agencyand industry have acted promptly on the implementation of the recommendations, and this work has delivered real improvements in the prevention of major incidents.
On the second MIIB report covering Emergency Preparedness for, Response to and Recovery from Incidents, Government organisations, notably the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) and the Cabinet Office, have responded to the challenge with a programme of action. As announced in the national security strategy, published in March 2008, the Cabinet Office has embarked in 2008 on a review of Part 1 of the Civil Contingencies Act (CCA) 2004. Delivered through the CCA enhancement programme, the review will ensure that the CCA continues to provide a modern, consistent and effective platform for civil protection in the UK. The review will directly address relevant recommendations highlighted in the second MIIB report.
The devolved administrations have also been fully engaged. This is coupled with positive work at a local level to enhance the resilience and effectiveness of emergency response, supported
by new guidance from Government. I am pleased to see these improvements, and we are already better prepared for any future emergencies at major hazard sites.
I would also like to take this opportunity to update the House on recovery and regeneration in the Buncefield area, which I am pleased to say is progressing well, with substantial financial assistance from central Government and the East of England Development Agency (EEDA). In conjunction with the local authority and key local stakeholders, EEDA is also developing innovative proposals to combine a series of significant funding programmes to help finance major infrastructure improvements identified in the local masterplan as key to driving growth in the area. In terms of recovery, 22 million litres of contaminated firewater stored at Maple Lodge and Blackbirds sewage treatment works has been treated and disposed of safely. The remaining firewater was safely disposed of by high-temperature incineration earlier this year. A parcel of land adjacent to the Buncefield site is in the process of being sold and developers were invited to submit proposals to EEDA by September.
With respect to regeneration, based on Dacorum borough councils programme of development, CLG has made a provisional award under the housing growth areas scheme for 2008-09 of £2.71 million and an indicative provisional award of £3.814 million for the period 2009-11. The East of England Development Agency has also provided £4.5 million to datesome £2 million pre-incidentand has pledged a further £2 million of any public gap-funding required to enable phase one of the Maylands Gateway masterplan to proceed. This includes funding for a Maylands partnership and recovery director as a focal point for recovery and regeneration activity and around £1.8 million of funding for a business support centre. Industry has also contributed a substantial sum to the restoration of business activities and regeneration in the local area.
EEDA is working closely with Dacorum borough council and local stakeholders, developing proposals to designate the area as a new town improvement district. If agreed, following a vote
by local business, this will create a substantial funding stream beginning as early as April 2009, directly controlled by local businesses, further to fund local infrastructure investment.
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will lead Government consideration of the most recent MIIB report, Recommendations on Land Use Planning and the Control of Societal Risk around Major Hazard Sites, which was published on 15 July this year. CLG will respond substantively on behalf of the Government in due course.
Meanwhile, CLG officials have met members of the MIIB to discuss the boards recommendations. In developing the Secretary of States response, CLG will work closely with both the HSE and the devolved administrations. It intends also to convene a stakeholders group, comprising representatives from Government, regulators and industry, with whom to consult as the work proceeds.
The regulatory regime for controlling the citing of major hazard facilities and development around them is complex, involving a number of legislative instruments. CLG intends to commission a study to set out and explain the operation of the legislation controlling the planning application and hazardous substances consent processes, and to consider the scope for rationalisation and possible integration of these regimes. The study will also investigate the extent to which local planning authorities with active consents have relevant policies in their development plans.
To summarise, I can report to the House that in response to a series of very useful reports from the MIIB, the Government, the Competent Authority, industrythrough the Buncefield standards task groupand others subject to the recommendations have responded promptly. They have set in train a programme of work that will ensure real improvements in the prevention of major incidents and, should major incidents occur, that effective plans are in place to respond and recover in the best way possible.