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Greater London Authority: Location

Baroness Gould of Potternewton asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): We have now drawn up a list of eight possible locations for London's new mayor and assembly. These have been selected from information on over 50 buildings, new developments and sites sent to Knight Frank, our agents.

They are:

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    London Bridge City, SE1 (a site between Tower Bridge and London Bridge on the Thames);

    Regent's Place, Euston Road, NW1 (new development close to Regents Park);

    St. George's Court, New Oxford Street, WC1 (refurbishment of a former Ministry of Defence building);

    Vauxhall Cross, SE11 (the Effra site by Vauxhall Bridge); and

    Victoria House, Bloomsbury Square, WC1 (refurbishment). The next step will be to provide the owners, managers and developers of these buildings and sites with details of the GLA's likely requirements and to invite them to submit details on how they can fulfil these, how quickly and at what cost. Some of the eight options are also being considered for other uses and may fall out. Some will need planning and other approvals and these will need to be considered by the appropriate authorities. If other possible locations come forward in the next few weeks, these too will be considered.

We anticipate that there will be strong competition to provide the high quality building which the mayor and assembly deserve. We hope to announce the final decision around the end of the year.

Opencast Coal Mining: Planning Policy

Lord Prys-Davies asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made with the review of planning policy on opencast coal and the appeal cases which are currently before the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions for decision.[HL3259]

Lord Whitty: Planning policy for coal extraction, including opencast coal mining is set out in Minerals Planning Guidance Note 3 (MPG3). Following the completion of the Energy Fuels Review, we will be preparing a revised draft of MPG3 for England which will be issued this autumn for a period of full consultation with all interested parties. This revised draft will take into account our pre-election commitments on opencast coal, the responses to our consultation in 1997 on Labour's 10-point plan for opencast coal, and, when available, the final conclusions of the Energy Fuels Review on the future of coal as a fuel for UK power generation.

Meanwhile, my department has issued the Secretary of State's decisions on four opencast appeal cases which have been delayed whilst the Energy Fuels Review has been in progress. It would not have been reasonable to delay these any longer. In deciding future cases after the publication of the revised draft of MPG3 for England, its emerging policies, as well as those in the current MPG3, will in appropriate cases be relevant considerations both for mineral planning authorities and for the Secretary of State, and as such will need to be taken into account.

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Car Parking Charges for the Disabled

Lord Islwyn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are considering giving any guidance to local authorities about car parking charges for the disabled in town centres.[HL3126]

Lord Whitty: Disabled people who are Orange Badge holders may park free of charge for up to three hours on yellow lines and without limit of time at on-street parking meters and pay-and-display areas (except in central London and a few other areas). This is a matter of regulation, not guidance.

Many local authorities allow Orange Badge holders to park free of charge at their off-street car parks but this is a decision for them and we do not offer guidance on it.

Shopping Centres: Planning Policy

Lord Islwyn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to encourage in-town as against out-of-town shopping.[HL3127]

Lord Whitty: Our response to the House of Commons Environment Committee report on shopping centres (July 1997, Cmnd 3729) reaffirmed the Government's support for Planning Policy Guidance Note 6: Town Centres and Retail Developments. The guidance aims to sustain and enhance the vitality and viability of town centres by encouraging new retail and other development in existing centres. The guidance has been well received and has all party support.

Social Exclusion Unit: Rough Sleeping Report

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Social Exclusion Unit, in the course of investigating rough sleeping, discussed what proportion of rough sleepers first became homeless when 16 or 17 years and are not entitled to benefits.[HL2895]

Lord Whitty: The Government have no information on the correlation between rough sleepers aged 16 or 17 and non-entitlement to state benefits. Paragraph 1.6 of the Social Exclusion Unit Report on Rough Sleeping reports figures from Homeless Network suggesting that there are now very few rough sleepers under 18.

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to paragraph 4.23 of the Social Exclusion Unit's Report on Rough Sleeping, whether, before considering action to introduce new powers to compel places in hostels to be taken up, they will consider the problem of appropriate penalties, in particular the difficulty of fining the homeless and the effect on the prison budget of imprisoning them.[HL2897]

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Lord Whitty: Paragraph 4.23 of the Social Exclusion Unit's Report on Rough Sleeping makes it clear that the Government have no present plans to change the powers in respect of rough sleepers, but believe the public will feel they have a right to expect hostel places to be taken up as more become available. It will be one of the tasks of the new London body to monitor this closely and if new powers were needed the Government would take all the relevant circumstances into account in considering the matter.

Motorway Service Areas

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their policy on the spacing of motorway service areas.[HL3151]

Lord Whitty: Motorway service areas (MSAs) exist to meet a road safety need by giving drivers somewhere to stop and rest. It is nevertheless important to strike a balance between the needs of motorists and the protection of the countryside from unnecessary development.

Policy on MSAs was last set out by the previous Administration in Annex A to PPG13 and Roads Circular 1/94. In summary, MSAs were to be not more than around 30 miles apart and, to increase competition and choice, could be provided as frequently as about every 15 miles.

Some six years after its introduction, there is little evidence of new operators entering the MSA sector. We are, however, concerned that additional MSA provision has been at the expense of other considerations, particularly in areas of planning restraint. We therefore intend to return to a policy based on the provision of MSAs approximately every 30 miles in order to provide drivers with adequate opportunities to stop and rest. Services at closer intervals will not be ruled out completely but we will in future expect to approve them only where there are exceptional need and safety grounds for doing so.

We are today issuing detailed guidance on this and a number of related MSA matters. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. This new advice will take effect immediately and we will expect developers, planners and others to take account of it when considering proposals for new MSAs. Where it differs from previous statements of policy, the new guidance should be regarded as taking precedence. It will be incorporated in a consolidated circular on MSA policy in due course.

Water Abstraction: Environmental Damage

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action is being taken to ensure that there will be no significant further environmental damage as a result of water abstraction.[HL3188]

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Lord Whitty: We published on 19 June a consultation paper setting out a wide range of proposals for changes in the water abstraction licensing system in England and Wales. A copy is in the Library of the House. Proposals on making changes to licences for abstractions which may be causing environmental damage are incorporated. In addition, possible water company investment to deal with particularly damaging abstractions is under consideration as part of the periodic review of water company price limits.

Genetically Modified Crops

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What advice they have received concerning the adequacy of the regulatory arrangements for the use of genetically modified crops.[HL3189]

Lord Whitty: The use of genetically modified crops is controlled by Part VI of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Genetically Modified Organisms (Deliberate Release) Regulations 1992 (as amended in 1995 and 1997). These implement fully the European Directive 90/220/EEC on the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms into the environment.

English Nature, on behalf of the statutory nature conservation agencies, has recommended that changes are made in the regulatory system to take account of potential ecological effects when assessing the risks of releasing genetically modified organisms. Potential ecological effects of GMOs are already addressed under the current regulatory regime. However the Government are considering how wider issues, such as agricultural management, can be taken into account.

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