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Thameslink 2000 Project

Baroness Turner of Camden asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): In the light of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions statement on Wednesday 28 January (Official Report, Commons Vol. 305, Col. 466-474), about the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL), the Secretary of State has decided to defer until 25 March the date by which he must reach a decision on whether to hold a public inquiry into Thameslink 2000. The reason for this is that powers for works which form important components of the Thameslink 2000 project are contained in the CTRL Act 1996 and cannot be used other than as part of the CTRL.

Housing Provision

Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Hayman: My department has made no such estimate of the number of homes that need to be constructed. The 1992-based projections, published in March 1995, relate to households and these indicate a 4.4 million increase in the number of households in England in the 25 year period from 1991 to 2016. However, these household projections should not be taken as an estimate of the number of additional houses which have to be built. Rather, they represent just one of the factors to be taken into account by local planning authorities when arriving at figures for housing provision to be included in regional guidance and

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development plans. Household projections are undertaken for Scotland and Wales on a similar basis.

No separate assessment has been made of the additional demands created by family breakdown. This is because it is not easy to categorise it readily and furthermore, not all family breakdown will lead to the formation of additional households or the need for additional dwellings. However, the group of households consisting of people living by themselves who are divorced and separated is projected to grow by a further 1.2 million in England between 1991 and 2016, with divorced and separated men representing two-thirds of this growth.

From the general household survey, in 1996-97 an estimated 31 per cent. of households in Great Britain were under-occupying, in the sense of having two or more bedrooms more than the generally accepted occupancy standard.

Elderly: Housing Needs

Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many retired people they estimate are currently seeking "granny flats" or sheltered accommodation and are currently occupying family housing; and whether, in order to release large family houses back onto the housing market, they will consider giving grants and other incentives to families to adapt accommodation for elderly relatives.[HL294]

Baroness Hayman: Information on the number of retired people seeking "granny flats" or sheltered accommodation who are currently occupying family housing is not collected centrally. However, research for the Department of the Environment (Living Independently: The Housing Needs of Elderly and Disabled People, published in 1994) found that about eight per cent. of elderly people, half of whom were owner-occupiers, were very or fairly likely to move within the next 12 months; and that those elderly people who wanted to move were more likely to want smaller, rented accommodation. However, the vast majority of elderly people, particular owner-occupiers, said that they wanted to stay in their present homes.

Most local authorities run cash incentive schemes to release properties for letting to those in housing need, by payment of a grant to assist the tenant in purchasing a property. Under such schemes, local authorities may also offer grants to elderly tenants to fund adaptations to the homes of their adult children, so that they may move in with them. It is for local authorities to decide whether or not to include such grants within their individual schemes.

Vacant Dwellings

Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many properties in the United Kingdom they currently estimate as vacant; how many of these are

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    in the public sector and how many are in the private sector; and what consideration they have given to utilising these properties to meet housing needs as an alternative to encroaching on Green Belt land.[HL291]

Baroness Hayman: Information on vacant properties is not available. The estimated number of vacant dwellings in England in April 1996 was around 800,000. Most--around 650,000--were in the private sector, representing about 4.2 per cent. of the private sector stock; about 100,000 were owned by local authorities or housing associations, representing about 2.3 per cent. of the social stock.

The Government are keen to ensure that the best use is made of existing housing. However, not all vacant dwellings could be utilised as an alternative to new development. For example, about 45 per cent. of private sector empty dwellings are "frictional" or "transactional" vacancies, with properties lying empty for a short period during the selling and buying process. These vacancies are required for the effective operation of the housing market. Similar vacancies occur in social housing between lettings. Some empty properties are in poor condition and need renovating to make them fit for occupation. Some are in areas where people are not looking for housing. Some may be beyond economic repair, awaiting demolition.

The Government encourage local authorities to act as strategic enablers, producing housing strategies covering all aspects of housing in their areas and making effective use of existing housing in all sectors. The effectiveness of authorities in developing and implementing housing strategies is taken into account in the allocation of Government resources.

Nearly £800 million of additional resources are being distributed in England in 1997-98 and 1998-99 under the Government's capital receipts initiative. It is for local authorities to decide how best to apply these much needed resources to meet local housing priorities. Early estimates suggest that nearly 80 per cent. of capital allocations under the Initiative in 1998-99 will be invested in existing public and private sector housing. This is likely to include works to bring empty or under-utilised properties into use where they are needed. The Housing Corporation's approved development programme also provides funding to registered social landlords to carry out conversion and renovation work to bring empty properties back into use.

The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions have grant-aided the Empty Homes Agency for the last three years to work with local authorities to develop and implement empty property strategies. We have just agreed to provide a further three year grant to the agency to continue this assistance, to work with local authorities to bring more redundant commercial property into residential use, and to make better use of empty properties in rural areas.

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The Government are also encouraging people to bring long term properties back into use by creating and sustaining the conditions for a healthy housing market so that people can either sell their empty property or have the confidence to let it out so that it does not lie empty.

"Combating Drink Driving--Next Steps"

Baroness Gould of Potternewton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will publish the consultation document on drink-driving.[HL412]

Baroness Hayman: The consultation paper Combating Drink Driving--Next Steps was published this morning. I have arranged for copies to be placed in the Library.

Attack Helicopter: Training

Lord Bruce of Donington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What arrangements are being made to provide ground-based and simulator training for the Army's attack helicopter air and ground crew.[HL429]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): Subject to satisfactory completion of contract negotiations, we intend to place a public/private partnership contract with a Joint Venture Company (JVC) formed by GKN Westland Helicopters Limited and the Boeing Corporation. The JVC will provide a service to meet all our requirements for ground based training and simulators in support of the attack helicopter.

This contract will ensure that we can take full advantage of the capabilities of the attack helicopter. The contract will run for 30 years and the JVC will be responsible for supplying all the equipment and instructional staff necessary to provide the required level of service.

Air Collision Study: Report

Baroness Turner of Camden asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will publish the results of the study called for by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch on the probability of a random mid-air collision.[HL428]

Lord Gilbert: The study, by the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, concluded that the principle of 'see-and-avoid' in the open flight information region below 2,000 ft. resolved confliction in over 99 per cent. of occasions. This implies a worst-case collision rate of 0.118 per 10,000 flying hours for single seat military fast jet aircraft and 0.005 per 10,000 flying hours for general aviation aircraft.

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The study acknowledged that certain conspicuity measures could further increase the effectiveness of see-and-avoid. We have already initiated a programme to paint the majority of training aircraft black including the Hawk, the Tucano, the Dominie and the Jetstream; training helicopters and the Firefly aircraft are painted in a combination of yellow and black. In addition, the majority of military aircraft are being fitted with high intensity strobe lights, and RAF aircraft with high power light assemblies where installation is not cost prohibitive.

The study also concludes that an effective safety enhancement would be the installation of a collision warning system to military fast jets. The procurement of CWS is under consideration as part of the Strategic Defence Review.

Flight safety is, and will remain, a key priority and we will continue to pursue initiatives that promise further improvements in that area.

Copies of the study report and an accompanying MoD commentary have been placed in the Library of the House.

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