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We want nature to be at the very heart of eco-towns and the development process will be used to restore wildlife habitats and weave the living landscape back together. We expect the eco-towns to become working demonstrations of the ways that biodiversity can contribute
to safe, healthy and prosperous communities. Biodiversity projects are being developed at all four locations, and include the potential to work with the Eden project team.
Eco-towns are large developments which will require all parts of the public sector to work together, and close working relations between local and central Government. I therefore propose to invite each of the eco-town local authorities to look at how their LAA could provide a suitable framework for planning future service provision and delivery in and around the eco-town area, for example through a stronger focus on a lower tier local authority within the LAA arrangement or sub area locality agreement.
I propose to establish a formal relationship between local and central Government, in an arrangement based on the model of multi-area agreements (MAA), to negotiate the freedoms and flexibilities eco-town areas will need to realise their aspirations. I wish also to offer certainty that central Government are willing to work closely with the local authority and local communities to make the most of their new eco town opportunities.
In addition I am asking the Homes and Communities Agency to provide support, expertise and advice to local partners and I expect the HCA's first step to be inclusion of the four eco-town locations in the first wave of single conversations between the agency and local authorities, with the agency assessing the detailed proposals as they come forward from the promoters in each location, and advising each location on funding, including growth funding. Providing there are proposals which represent good quality and value for money and are deliverable within a mixed community context, provision of affordable housing support in these locations will be presented by HCA as a regional priority in the allocation of resources from the National Affordable Housing Programme.
The eco-town locations I am announcing today all have existing communities close by or within the area and I want them to benefit from their new eco-towns. We will, therefore, be inviting existing communities in the first eco-town locations to participate in the "Green villages, towns and cities" challenge for communities announced in the DECC Low Carbon Transition Plan published yesterday. In total, 15 communities will be selected to participate as "test-hubs", with local residents, businesses, and the public sector playing a leading role.
The need to develop thriving and sustainable communities able to take a strong role in shaping their community is at the heart of the eco-town concept. To support community anchor organisations in taking a leading role in shaping the eco-town proposals, and subject to local proposals, Government will invite eco-town pilot projects to apply for support within the £70 million community builders fund for community organisations, including for the purchase of community assets.
We have been well served by the Eco-towns challenge panel of independent experts and we want to maintain the creative contribution that independent professionals can make through the CABE design review process, CABE design support at local level, and the continuation of an independent advisory panel as the eco-town schemes are developed.
Despite the difficult current market conditions caused by the recession, I expect 10,000 homes built by 2016 of which 30 per cent. will be affordable. To start this
process we will support early demonstrator buildings to test and develop from the new technologies needed, and so that local communities can help shape their further development. For the next two years I am providing £60 million start up funding from the growth fund for this work for the four locations identified today. This is additional to mainstream funding for services. We expect that the bulk of investment in these schemes will be from the private sector, but eco-towns will also benefit from similar levels of public investment to any comparable large housing scheme and this will include continued growth funding over the period of major development.
Our climate change "Planning Policy Statement" (PPS) published in December 2007 has put climate change at the heart of what is expected from good planning and complemented our earlier PPS on renewable energy. Neither now fully reflects the scale of the challenge we face. But neither fully reflects the scale of the challenge we now face in supporting the UK's transition to a low carbon country. We will therefore review and combine them, consulting in detail on proposals later this year.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Bill Rammell): On 15 May 2008, Official Report, column 66WS, my predecessor announced that Headquarters Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (HQ ARRC) and its intimate supporting elements would move to Innsworth in Gloucestershire in the summer of 2010. At that time Cosford in Shropshire was our preferred site for 1 Signal Brigade (1 Sig Bde) and 102 Logistic Brigade (102 Log Bde) and our aim was to close Rhine Garrison and Munster Station by 2015. This would leave three enduring garrisons in Germany: Gutersloh, Paderborn and Hohne.
Continuing work on the Defence Training Rationalisation Programme means that Cosford will not be available to achieve this aim. The programme team responsible for the moves from Germany to the UK has therefore examined alternative site solutions and today I am announcing that the preferred site for 1 Sig Bde is now Stafford. This decision will need to be confirmed following scrutiny of the detailed plans for the move and the programme team will now focus on drawing up these plans, which will include a competition for the infrastructure and construction requirements at Stafford, with a view to occupation from 2013. The team will continue to consult all interested parties including the local county and borough councils, health and education providers and the trade unions.
I believe this is a positive defence initiative for the area and complements Stafford's growth point status which will enable a joint approach between the Government and the local authorities to support the defence community. Stafford is already the home of 22 Signal Regiment (22 Sig Regt) and moving other elements of 1 Sig Bde (7 and 16 Sig Regts) there provides a synergy that will be important to the Department and should also be beneficial to the local community.
Cosford remains our preferred site for 102 Logistic Brigade once the Defence College of Aeronautical Engineering (DCAE) moves to St. Athan as presently planned in 2014-15, and on current assumptions we envisage the Logistic Brigade moving in 2016. Cosford is a well found site that has enduring military utility and is designated as a MOD Core Site. We will continue to consider the other opportunities that Cosford affords us as the need arises.
These changes enable us to keep the closure of Rhine Garrison on track and this is currently envisaged as being in 2014. We would expect Munster Station to close in 2016-17 assuming 102 Log Bde moves to Cosford in 2016.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Kevan Jones): Today the Department has published the Defence Estate Development Plan (DEDP) 2009-the first annual update of this vital internal planning document. The updated plan is evolutionary in nature and reflects the Department's consistent estate priorities. DEDP 09 sets out the authoritative framework, looking forward to 2030, for the coherent development of the estate to meet the future needs of defence, and the priorities for investment and rationalisation arising from it. It also informs our programme of engagement with the regions, which underpins the successful delivery of many of our estate programmes.
The key changes are evolutionary in nature and include, amongst others, cross-Government support to the armed forces as set out in "The Nation's Commitment", and revised targets for improving living accommodation for our people. Other changes reflect specific investment and basing decisions that support the generation of sustainable military capability.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Kevan Jones): I am pleased to inform the House that a new non-departmental public body (NDPB) has been set up, entitled the "Science Advisory Committee on the Medical Implications of Less Lethal Weapons" (SACMILL).
Previously SACMILL was a sub-committee of the Defence Science Advisory Council (DSAC), known as DOMILL (DSAC sub-committee on the Medical Implications of Less Lethal Weapons). DOMILL had become recognised as a valuable and authoritative group on the medical implications of the use of less lethal weapons, providing cross-Government advice.
A review by MOD's director general management and organisation (DGMO) has recommended that DOMILL should become a cross-Government NDPB in its own right, sponsored by the Surgeon General. This has placed the group on a permanent footing,
allowing it to work with other Departments directly rather than through MOD. I will retain oversight on behalf of MOD and will remain informed of the committee's activities.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Kevan Jones): I have today published a Green Paper "The Nation's Commitment to the Armed Forces Community: Consistent and Enduring Support".
Last summer's publication of the Command Paper, "The Nation's Commitment: Cross-Government Support to our Armed Forces, their Families and Veterans", was well received by the services, by veterans groups and by the public at large. We shall be publishing the first annual report in the autumn charting the progress that has been made. This work has already delivered significant improvements in a number of areas:
Doubling compensation for the most serious injuries;
Free further education for service leavers; and
Help for forces leavers to get on the housing ladder.
We said last year that we would not allow this strategy of support to our armed forces community to fade. Today's Green Paper sets out the next step in this process. We would like to see an enduring shift in the way in which public bodies think about the armed forces community, so that their special circumstances are taken into account at all stages, from policy formation to service delivery. The Command Paper was an important step forward; we must now make permanent the approach which it embodied.
This Green Paper sets out a range of ideas, including through possible legislation, for how we can achieve this. It focuses on two strands: making the principles enshrined within the Command Paper consistent and enduring, and providing a new route for recourse.
The ideas are intentionally broad and wide ranging. There is no single favoured option at this stage. We want to explore these ideas through a public consultation, where everyone can have their say about the best way forward. The responses received will allow us to make informed, collective decisions on how best to take this work forward and deliver real and lasting effect for the armed forces community.
Where the options relate to devolved matters in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales we will work with the devolved Administrations who are responsible for a number of areas such as health, housing, education, skills and transport in determining how best to take forward the principles of achieving equal or similar levels of support for the armed forces community. In these areas the Devolved Administrations will wish to consider the responses to this consultation in respect of devolved matters and determine a way forward that is appropriate for them, in consultation with their strategic partners. The UK Government will work with them to deliver a solution which supports the armed forces community across the UK.
Those who serve on our behalf place all that they have on the line for this country. In return, the nation has a commitment to make sure that they have the support they need and deserve, when they need it. The consultation period will complete on 31 October 2009.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Huw Irranca-Davies): In July last year DEFRA launched an open consultation to seek the views of a range of stakeholders on the principle of whether some members of National Park and Broads Authorities should be directly elected.
The majority of the national park authorities' membership comprises local authority and parish councillors selected by their respective councils, with the remainder being appointed by the Secretary of State in recognition of the national interest. The Broads Authority has a different membership structure under its own primary legislation to reflect the broads' navigational interest.
During the passage of the Broads Authority Private Bill the question arose of whether there should be parish members on the Broads Authority. As a result this issue was included in the consultation on direct elections.
A total of 490 responses were received to the consultation. The strongest support for the principle of direct elections came from respondents within the Broads Authority and New Forest national parks for reasons of local democracy and local representation in relation to planning decisions, but there was very little support for larger authorities to accommodate directly elected members.
Most stakeholders considered that direct elections would not lead to any improved effectiveness or efficiency of national park authorities, including the authorities themselves. Many national park authorities, local authorities and parish councils expressed concern that direct elections in place of their members would have the effect of disenfranchising the local authorities and parish councils which the park authorities work with leading to the effect of serious repercussions in relation to their influence with other bodies, particularly at regional and national level.
There appeared to be no consensus on which category of members to replace to accommodate directly elected members. All categories of members have provided a significant contribution to the effective working of the Authorities. However, many individuals who live in the parks and MPs have raised the issue of democratic accountability and local representation for local communities in the parks.
I have been impressed with the range of community engagement that already occurs, and having carefully considered the responses I have decided not to make any changes to the current membership arrangements. I am proposing ways of improving the accountability of the national park authorities and to apply more consistently some of the examples of best practice across all parks.
The park authorities will be required to apply the 'Duty to Involve' measures contained in the Local Government and Public Health Act 2007, which will assist local authorities and others in understanding what the park authorities are, their functions and how people can get involved.
Although there are a range of accountability measures already in place, including the holding of authority meetings in public, local area agreements, formal
performance assessments and annual inspections by the Audit Commission, I have also asked the park authorities to examine other ways of engaging the public and local residents in the decision making process, for example;
Making the reporting of progress and performance more open and transparent including information on progress in delivering the objectives set out in the national park management plans.
Considering whether existing forums provide sufficient opportunities for public involvement in priority setting and improving the engagement of parish councils.
Undertaking regular resident and visitor surveys to obtain feedback on the services provided by the authorities, openly publish analysis of these, and demonstrate how they are shaping the delivery of services provided by the authority.
Given the ability of parish members to provide local knowledge, I will also consider more closely the role they play in existing national park authorities, and ways of enhancing the parish member appointment processes to ensure they are made more consistent and include opportunities for wider public involvement.
On the issue of appointing parish members to the Broads Authority, while there was some support for these appointments this should not be at the expense of a reduction in the existing categories of membership. Although I am not in favour of adding parish council members to the Broads Authority at this time, I am prepared to reconsider the matter if local government restructuring meant that there was a need in any case to revise the Broads Authority's membership.
NPA meetings being held in public, with the papers made available, including on websites.
Formal NPA performance assessments being undertaken which includes peer and stakeholder review and rigorous independent scrutiny.
A commitment to public participation which goes beyond statutory public consultation on the preparation of the national park management plan and subsequent publication and monitoring of delivery.
Publication of NPA corporate plans and other strategies.
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