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Building Regulations, Part M

Lord Milner of Leeds asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): Further to the Answer given by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Nick Raynsford) in another place on 11 June 1997, (Official Report, Vol. 295, col. 472) to a similar question from the honourable Member for Sutton and Cheam, we are pleased to announce that Part M of the Building Regulations, covering access and facilities for disabled people, is to be extended to include new dwellings. This decision has been taken following a thorough consideration of the responses to the consultation on the subject issued by the previous government in January 1995 and discussion with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the House Builders Federation. The purpose of these proposed measures is to allow people to be able to invite disabled people to visit them in their own homes, and for home owners to be able to remain in their own homes longer as they become less mobile as they get older.

The benefits of these changes will be very considerable--more than 10 million people will benefit. In particular there will be direct benefits of increased convenience, accessibility and sociability for disabled people. The measures will also help significantly those people who are temporarily disabled through accident or injury, the elderly and those with young children in prams and pushchairs.

The extension of Part M is an important measure that complements this Government's commitment to implement the remaining duties of Part III of the Disability Discrimination Act. Part III will improve disabled people's access to goods and services and Part M will ensure better access to new domestic dwellings. This is, therefore, a key obligation for this Government, who are committed to social inclusion. It is better and more cost effective for new homes to be designed and built with proper facilities--as already happens with new public and commercial buildings--than to rely on later piecemeal adjustments.

The measures to be included in the approved document will cover:

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    level or gently sloping approach from the car parking space to the dwelling, or where this is not possible, easy-going steps, but not a stepped ramp

    where a lift is to be provided in flats, a minimum lift capacity and dimensions will be recommended

    where a lift is not provided, the common stairs to be designed to suit the needs of the ambulant disabled.

These measures reflect those set out in the original consultation paper, although it is not proposed to make provision for a 300 mm offset inside, and next to the entrance door.

Amendment regulations will be laid later this year which will extend Part M of the building regulations to cover new dwellings. A new Approved Document will be prepared in readiness for publication at the same time which will set out ways in which the requirements of the regulations can be met, and will suggest circumstances where certain of the measures may not be appropriate.

To allow adequate time for guidance to be developed in support of the proposals, and in particular that for level thresholds, and also to allow time for building workers to become trained in the new techniques that will be necessary, it is proposed the amendment regulations will come into force one year after they are laid.

If, however, those building new dwellings in the intervening period were to incorporate the proposed measures voluntarily it would greatly benefit the stock of accessible housing.

Filwood Playing Fields, Bristol

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Commission for Local Administration in England has had any communication in any form with Bristol City Council concerning application number 97/08136, the proposed bus depot construction on Filwood Playing Fields in Hengrove.[HL840]

Baroness Hayman: Such questions are a matter for the Commission for Local Administration, which is independent of both central and local government in its investigation of complaints of maladministration by local authorities leading to injustice.

Road Accident Preventive Measures

Lord Vinson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many deaths and serious injuries they expect, on the basis of research by the Road Research Laboratory and others, would be saved each year by:

    (a) the adoption in the United Kingdom of European Central Time;

    (b) the proposed reduction of the blood alcohol limit for drivers from 80mg/ml to 50mg/ml.[HL831]

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Baroness Hayman: The Transport Research Laboratory has recently refined its previous estimates of the net savings in road casualties in Great Britain were European Central Time to be adopted. Its recently received report, which was produced jointly with statisticians from University College London, gives a central estimate, from which there could be significant variations, of about 450 deaths and serious injuries which might be saved. The report is being considered by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and by the Scottish Office. The report will be published in due course.

It is estimated that a reduction of the blood alcohol limit from 80mg/100ml to 50mg/100ml would save about 300 fatal or serious casualties per year.

Turf Cutting

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they believe it is consistent with the sustainable use of land for turf to be repeatedly harvested from it over a period of years.[HL855]

Baroness Hayman: Turf cutting as a commercial activity may constitute "development" within the terms of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, requiring planning permission. Where turf cutting is "reasonably necessary for the purposes of agriculture", it benefits from permitted development rights under Part 6 of Schedule 2 to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995. In such cases, there is no requirement for a planning application to be submitted to the local planning authority. Whether turf cutting is deemed to be an agricultural activity, an activity reasonably necessary for the purposes of agriculture, or a non-agricultural activity requiring planning permission will depend on the circumstances of the particular case.

The long-term agricultural potential of land may be significantly reduced if substantial amounts of soil are removed. Local planning authorities are advised to consult MAFF about commercial cutting or stripping of turf from agricultural land where planning permission is required. LPAs are required in any case to consult MAFF before granting permission for a planning application which is not in accordance with the development plan and would involve (i) the loss of 20 ha or more of grades 1, 2 or 3a agricultural land or (ii) a loss which is less than 20 ha but is likely to lead to further losses amounting cumulatively to 20 ha or more. Such consultations enables MAFF to advise on appropriate technical conditions.

Under the Agricultural Land (Removal of Surface Soil) Act 1953, it is an offence to remove for sale more than 5 cubic yards of surface soil from agricultural land in any period of three months unless removal of the soil is "reasonably necessary" in the course of cutting turf.

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Blood Alcohol Levels Following Initial Reading

The Marquess of Ailesbury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their estimate of the reading which a breathalyser would give at (a) 7 am and (b) midday if the person concerned had given a reading of 80 mg/ml at midnight and consumed no alcohol after midnight.[HL884]

Baroness Hayman: Any person whose blood alcohol level at midnight was reliably recorded as 80mg/100ml--the current legal limit--by means of a breath test, and who consumed no further alcohol would be unlikely to retain more than, at most, 10mg/100ml by 7 am and a negligible quantity by midday.

London Underground: Water Penetration

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What advice they have received from London Underground about water penetration into Underground tunnels; what plans they have for investment to meet the danger; and what estimate they have formed of the likely costs should they find that they have left this investment too late.[HL810]

Baroness Hayman: The Government are aware that rising groundwater beneath London is affecting parts of the Underground network. Investment to control it has not been left too late. London Underground has considerable expertise in dealing with groundwater and is taking action as necessary within its ongoing maintenance and investment programme. For the longer term, Thames Water plc is taking the lead in developing a strategy for alleviating rising groundwater levels across the area of London most likely to be affected.

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