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The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Howe): All applications for support under the EC's Fourth Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development are made directly to the Commission of the European Communities, which is responsible for managing the process of appraisal and selection of projects for support. Information about these applications is not held centrally in the UK. We are aware that a number of applications have been made by UK local authorities in specific areas of the programme. These include telematics, where the applications deal with advanced information and communication systems for a wide range of purposes, non-nuclear energy, and transport. The framework programme is funded from the EC budget, to which the UK and other Member States contribute.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallesey): In the time available my officials have not been able to obtain from the Secretariat of the Council of Europe the total number of applications made to the European Convention on Human Rights since the Convention came into force. The following figures show the number of provisional files opened by the Commission during 1994, followed in brackets by the number of cases found admissible in that year. These figures do not of course reflect the numerous applications received by the Commission which do not lead to the opening of a file.
I refer my noble friend to the reply I gave to the noble Lord, the Lord Lester of Herne Hill on 12 June (cols. WA102 to 104), which gave details of the number of violations found by the Court up to March 1995, and showing the ratio of violations per 100,000 head of population per annum.
The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Viscount Ullswater): Local authorities are free to determine their spending priorities between services, so long as they operate within statutory requirements. The Government determines a Standard Spending Assessment (SSA) for each local authority for each financial year. The SSA is built up from formulae relating to each of their main services. These formulae are reviewed each year. But there is no presumption that an authority's budget for a particular service should correspond to the portion of its Standard Spending Assessment calculated in relation to that service.
Viscount Ullswater: In the statements from my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment on 2 and 21 March he said that he would be directing a newly-constituted Commission to carry out new structure reviews of a small number of individual districts.
My right honourable friend named 20 districts which he had in mind to refer to the Commission. He said that nine of these would definitely be referred; for the remaining 11 we would hold meetings with the district councils and their county councils before coming to a view. That programme of meetings is now complete. My right honourable friend has considered all of the arguments and decided that all 20 districts should be referred to the Commission for new reviews. They are: Basildon, Blackburn, Blackpool, Broxtowe, Dartford, Exeter, Gedling, Gillingham, Gloucester, Gravesham, Halton, Huntingdonshire, Northampton, Norwich, Peterborough, Rochester upon Medway, Rushcliffe, Thurrock, Warrington, and the Wrekin.
My right honourable friend also said that, while he would consider requests from other districts to be reviewed, it was very unlikely that he should want to add significantly to the number of referrals to the Commission. My right honourable friend has carefully considered all the requests which he has received, and
We have concluded that in these cases the arguments are substantial enough to warrant further consideration. It will be for the Commission to recommend whether or not they should have unitary status. It will then be for my right honourable friend to accept, modify or reject the proposals and Parliament ultimately to decide. My right honourable friend has not been convinced by the representations from other districts and has therefore concluded that no others should be referred to the Commission for review.
The Commission will be directed to carry out these reviews with effect from the beginning of July. All of them will be carried out under new guidance to the Commission. We have consulted on a draft and my right honourable friend will publish the final version in the next few days, in time for the Commission to start work promptly.
My right honourable friend has also considered further the case of Rutland, in particular the implications for costs and service delivery, following his Statement of 21 March. Rutland has a very clear sense of local identity and he is now satisfied that a unitary authority in Rutland would best reflect the identities and interests of the local community and secure effective and convenient local government. My right honourable friend has therefore decided to accept the Commission's recommendation for Rutland to be given unitary status. We shall be consulting in due course on a draft order to give effect to that decision.
Viscount Ullswater: The conduct of a planning appeal, and any costs application arising from it, is invariably a matter for the appellant company and their advisers. Comprehensive policy and procedural guidance on awards of appeals costs, which all principal appeal parties in planning proceedings are advised to follow, is given in Department of the Environment Circular 8/93, issued in March 1993.
During the course of the debate on rural affairs on 10 May you raised two planning issues on which I did not have time to respond. I hope that you will find the following explanation of the Government's policy on these issues helpful.
First, you asked what can be done to help local planning authorities who may be intimidated by developers who threaten to sue them for costs if a refusal of planning permission is subsequently overturned on appeal.
Most members of local planning authorities know that there is some risk of an award of appeal costs against the authority only if they behave "unreasonably", as this term is interpreted in publishing policy guidance (currently in DOE Circular 8/93). It is a well-established principle that an award of costs does not "follow the event" of the appeal decision (as in litigation in the court). Therefore, I see no reason for authorities to feel intimidated by developers in the way you suggest. Provided each of an authority's reasons for refusing planning permission is objective, clear-cut and sustainable on its planning merits, and they can show in any appeal proceedings that they properly considered the merits of the application, by reference to stated national and local planning policies, they need not fear an award of costs against them. The great majority of planning appeals do not result in a costs application, let alone an award.
The published arrangements are intended to bring a greater sense of discipline to all parties involved in planning appeals. Planning authorities can also apply for their costs when they can show that an appellant has acted "unreasonably" in exercising the right of appeal. The policy is intended to apply even-handedly.
The Government's policy, as set out in DOE Circular 16/91, is that planning obligations, as we prefer to call them, should only be sought where they are necessary to the granting of planning permission, relevant to planning and relevant to the development to be permitted. Overall, our policy is one of reasonableness: planning obligations should relate fairly and reasonably both in scale and in kind to the proposed development. Developers should only be asked to pay for facilities which are needed as a result of their development and no more. These policies have recently been endorsed by the House of Lords decision on the "Tesco" (Witney) appeal case.
I agree that planning obligations can have positive benefits. Used properly they are valuable tools which can remedy genuine planning problems and enhance the quality of development. But the use of planning obligations should not degenerate into the buying and selling of planning permission. While it is entirely a matter for the parties concerned whether to enter into a planning obligation, local authorities are well advised to heed what you say about the dangers of accepting inducements offered by developers. The Secretary of State remains fundamentally opposed to any attempts to influence planning decisions through the offer of unnecessary community benefits.
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