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Retailing and Town Centres: Policy

Lord Inglewood asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Whitty: The Government's planning policies on retailing and town centres remain as set out in PPG6 (Planning Policy Guidance note 6). The recent research supports this policy. I commend this report to local authorities, which are primarily responsible for determining planning applications. We have no plans to add to the existing guidelines on the Government's call-in policy. Call-in depends on the circumstances of each case; the call-in power is used very sparingly. The Government are currently considering whether the recent retail application in Kirkby Lonsdale should be called in.

A.21 Tonbridge Bypass to Scotney Castle

Viscount Brentford asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Whitty: During the three-year period 1 January 1995 to 31 December 1997, there were reports of three accidents involving fatalities, 22 involving serious injuries and 88 involving slight injuries on the two single carriageway lengths (5.9 miles) of the A.21 trunk road between the southern end of the Tonbridge Bypass and Scotney Castle, south of Lamberhurst. There are both long- and short-term proposals for improving the safety of these lengths of road. Following the Roads Review, the A.21 Lamberhurst Bypass has been included in the Government's Targeted Programme of Improvements (TPI). The Government are committed to starting all TPI schemes within the next seven years. Details of timings are being worked on at present and will be announced as soon as possible. Congestion and safety problems on the A.21 between Tonbridge and Pembury will be considered by the "Access to Hastings" study announced in the Roads Review. It is too early to say when this study is likely to proceed but we will be consulting the South East Regional Planning Conference shortly about the proposed multi-modal study programme and the remit for the "Access to Hastings" study. The Highways Agency is also carrying out a feasibility study for smaller scale safety improvements south of Kippings Cross.

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Climate Change: Consultation Paper

Lord Davies of Coity asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to publish their climate change consultation paper.[HL3553]

Lord Whitty: On Monday 26 October my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister will launch a consultation paper seeking views on policy options for meeting our climate change targets. Copies of the document will be placed in the Libraries of the House.

Rent Assessment Committees

Lord Colwyn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    (a) Who appoints the members of the panel of the Rent Assessment Committee;

    (b) What is the duration of their appointment;

    (c) What criteria were laid down for their selection;

    (d) To whom are the members of the panel answerable; and

    (e) What steps or precautions are taken to ensure their impartiality.[HL3437]

Lord Whitty: I will answer the noble Lord's questions in the same order as he has asked them:

    (a) My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions appoints members of Rent Assessment Panels from which Rent Assessment Committees are drawn, except for those persons who act as a chairman of committees and are appointed by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor.

    (b) Members are appointed for periods of up to three years and may be reappointed for similar periods subject to satisfactory performance.

    (c) Members include qualified lawyers and valuers, and lay persons. The qualities looked for include relevant professional expertise, intellectual grasp, sound judgment, analytical skills, ability to work as a team member and in the case of a chairman, the ability to control proceedings. Following a review of the procedures for appointing members, the majority of appointments to RAPs are now made following advertising and open competition, with a view to widening the catchment from which members are drawn.

    (d) Members are answerable to the President of the respective Panel for their general conduct and performance. Rent Assessment Committees are constituted as independent statutory bodies and their decisions are subject to appeal to the courts only on a point of law.

    (e) Members are required to declare their interests when first appointed and upon reappointment through Panel Presidents, who are very aware of the need to ensure that members do not consider

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    cases in which they have either a personal or professional interest. The Government are looking to strengthen the safeguards still further. Panel Presidents have been asked to consider how a register of members' interests can be made available for public inspection.

Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution: Twentieth Report

Lord Davies of Coity asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to respond to the Twentieth Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution.[HL3554]

Lord Whitty: We have published our response to the Twentieth Report, on Transport and the Environment. Copies of the response have been laid before the House.

The Government's response to the Commission closely follows their recently published White Paper on Integrated Transport. The Government note the clear resonance between the themes emphasised in the White Paper and in this Royal Commission report and its predecessor, the Eighteenth Report. These include recognition that the consequences of future traffic growth are indeed unacceptable; the need to take action to secure more sustainable transport for the future; the need for integration, both within and between transport modes, and of transport policies with other policies; agreement that government should aim to provide the framework for all those with an interest in transport to play their part; the potential for technology to provide solutions through innovation, among other things, in fuel efficiency and emissions; and the need to encourage awareness of transport issues, and to send consistent signals such that we all work to further sustainable development objectives.

The Government have warmly welcomed the Royal Commission's reports, which have been influential in shaping the new mood for change, away from policies dominated by the short term and towards a more sustainable approach to transport policy that tackles both congestion and pollution. The Government look forward to developing this common ground as we all work to implement the new integrated transport policy.

Index of Local Deprivation

Lord Davies of Oldham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the technical report on revising and updating the Index of Local Deprivation will be published.[HL3555]

Lord Whitty: We have placed in the House Library the report describing the technical details of revising and updating the Index of Local Deprivation, the results of which were published in June of this year.

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National Bus Company Pensions Action

Lord Davies of Oldham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why they have now decided to seek an out of court settlement to the current legal action on National Bus Company pensions.[HL3556]

Lord Whitty: Litigation was set in train by the decision of the previous government to offer the trustees funding to pursue this matter through the courts. In view of this it would not have been appropriate to begin negotiations on a settlement until the details of this complex case had been fully prepared and all the relevant facts and arguments were known to and considered by both parties. The trustees submitted the final part of their claims in July this year. The Government received strong legal advice that they should lodge their own response with the court before opening discussions on an out of court settlement. The Secretary of State initiated settlement discussions as soon as that stage was reached.

Building Regulations: Entry into Force of Part M

Lord Swinfen asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they propose to extend Part M of the Building Regulations to new dwellings; and when they will come into force.[HL3486]

Lord Whitty: Amendment regulations have been laid before Parliament and published today, extending Part M of the Building Regulations, covering access and facilities for disabled people, to include new dwellings. These regulations include transitional provisions. The effect of the regulations is that from 25 October 1999 new homes will have to be built with features that make them better suited to the needs of disabled people. People will be able to invite disabled people to visit them in their own homes; and home owners will 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--potentially 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 and those with young children in prams and pushchairs.

The extension of Part M 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 dwellings. 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.

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