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Written Statements

Volume 447: debated on Tuesday 20 June 2006

Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 20 June 2006

Communities and Local Government

Manchester Salford Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder

The Government will make available up to £52 million in grant to the Manchester/Salford pathfinder in 2006-07 and, subject to the availability of resources, up to £54 million in 2007-08. These figures include funding that has already been committed.

This investment will allow Manchester/Salford’s pathfinder to continue its innovative work to support deprived estates, improve areas with run down and abandoned homes, and bring people back into inner-city areas which faced problems for many years. The funding is also subject to an updated funding agreement which is to be agreed and signed by the pathfinder and the Department and follows earlier grants totalling £115 million that were allocated to the pathfinder to the end of March 2006.

The funding will help the pathfinder take forward, for another two years, its positive and ongoing work in renewing underperforming segments of its housing markets. The funding will also support its strategy of creating high quality and mixed tenure neighbourhoods of choice to meet the needs of existing, returning and future residents while concurrently supporting sustainable communities.

New Growth Point Status

The Government's response to the Barker review published last December indicated that we would need to go significantly beyond the communities plan and existing growth areas if we were to increase house-building to the levels necessary to meet household projections and improve affordability. To help do that we launched the new growth points scheme inviting local partners to come forward with proposals for housing growth, linked into their wider strategies for economic growth, for town centre renewal, for regeneration as well as for meeting local need for homes.

We have had over 20 bids including more than 50 local authorities. If all these bids were realised we would secure an extra 8,000 to 10,000 homes per year, 80,000 in total by 2016, in addition to existing plans and the existing growth areas. We have a good spread across several regions from the south-west to the west and east midlands as well as from the east and south-east. Every region is now experiencing household growth and rising housing demand. Therefore it is right that bids to support housing and job growth should be considered from different regions and assessed according to their local circumstances.

The Government are publishing today a list of those individual applications for which we have a full proposal and which will now be the basis of more detailed discussions over the next few weeks. In some of these proposals there remain important issues to resolve affecting transport and the environment. We will need to be assured that solutions can be found and that they will be delivered at the right time to address the impacts of the additional housing. There will of course also need to be public consultation on these proposals, as they go forward for consideration and testing in the statutory planning process through the relevant regional spatial strategy and the local development framework process. This will include regional sustainability appraisal and local assessment of individual schemes as they come forward.

This very encouraging response from local partners demonstrates that many of our regional towns and cities want to grow, want to become more attractive places for businesses to invest and to retain their young people who want to find a home. This initiative is about creating a partnership for growth in which both Government and local partners can be confident that we are working to the same goals.

In going forward we also need to ensure that this growth is sustainable and well planned, acceptable environmentally and realistic in terms of infrastructure, particularly transport. The new growth proposals will need to demonstrate a good balance between homes and jobs and improved environmental sustainability. Indeed, the new growth points scheme is a significant opportunity for these locations to become exemplars of sustainable development. This includes the ability to enhance and extend green infrastructure—both green spaces and conservation sites—and to build more sustainable homes to high standards of design, with less demand on resources and with the right provision for water supply, treatment and flood risk. We will need to be assured that pressures on transport can be realistically managed, where necessary including demand management. In taking forward these proposals for more detailed assessment we will continue to work closely with colleagues across Government including the Department for Transport, DEFRA, the Environment Agency, Natural England and CABE to look at these issues in more detail.

In some cases also we need to look again at whether the level of growth is sufficient, taking account of the most recent household projections. We have an ageing, growing population and house building rates are simply not meeting this rising demand. We need to build more homes in all parts of the country, but that growth must be sustainable. Unless we build more homes across the board we face increasing problems of overcrowding, homelessness and pressures on first-time buyers.

In October we will make a more detailed announcement on the individual growth point schemes, including those which will receive a share of an initial £40 million pilot funding round in 2007-08 to support early site infrastructure projects, unlock sites for new housing and improve the environment. To give local authorities more freedom in how this funding is applied Government are proposing to include it in local area agreements which will give local partners extra flexibility in managing the programme locally. In addition, the Government are undertaking a cross-cutting review of infrastructure requirements for housing as part of the comprehensive spending review and have consulted on a planning gain supplement to support this housing growth in the future.

For our partners in this scheme this is intended to be the beginning of a stronger long term relationship with Government and links to our approach on city regions as well as giving all partners greater encouragement to co-operate locally to secure sustainable growth.

Applications being taken forward:

East Midlands

“The three Cities Bid”—Leicester/Derby/Nottingham

Lincoln, Grantham and Newark

West Midlands

Birmingham/ Solihull

East of England

Norwich, Haven Gateway (Colchester/Ipswich) and Thetford/Breckland

South East

Reading, Oxford (city), Didcot, Basingstoke, Maidstone and Redhill/Horley

Partnership for Urban South Hampshire

South West

Bristol (West of England Partnership—four unitary authorities)

Swindon

Exeter

Plymouth

Truro/Carrick

Poole

In addition to these locations we remain in discussion with other applicants who may be able to join the scheme at a later date.

Housing Market Renewal Funding (Tees Valley, West Cumbria and West Yorkshire)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
(Angela E. Smith)

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will announce today that up to £46 million will be made available to help revitalise fragile housing markets in the Tees Valley, West Cumbria and West Yorkshire. The maximum allocations to each area for 2006-08 will be:

Tees Valley (Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland, Stockton-on-Tees)—£18.25 million (£5.5 million in 2006-07, £12.75 million in 2007-08)

West Cumbria (Allerdale, Barrow in Furness, Copeland)— £9 million (£3.5 million in 2006-07, £5.5 million in 2007-08)

West Yorkshire (Bradford, Kirklees, Leeds, Wakefield)—£18.25 million (£5.5 million in 2006-07, £12.75 million in 2007-08)

Some £500,000 is also being allocated in 2006-07 to help fund research into weak housing markets outside pathfinder areas in Greater Manchester and Merseyside.

Payments for 2006-07 will be made shortly. Payments for 2007-08 will be made in April 2007, subject to the availability of resources. In each of the areas, housing market renewal funding will be aligned alongside other funding streams to assist in the delivery of wider regeneration strategies

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

I will be representing the United Kingdom at this month's Agriculture and Fisheries Council.

The Council will adopt a proposal confirming the overall rural development budget for 2007-13, and the annual breakdown including the minimum amount to be concentrated in regions eligible under the Convergence Objective. In addition the Council will note the Commission's intended methodology for allocating this money to member states. The UK will put on record its disappointment at the fact that the methodology is based on historic share rather than objective need.

The Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development will give a progress report on the WTO agricultural negotiations. She will also present the Commission's forest action plan, designed to improve the implementation of the 1998 EU forest strategy.

The presidency will provide a written update on the outcome of the sixth session of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF-6) and their assessment of EU participation. The presidency will also present their conclusions from the May Informal Agriculture Council discussions, which focused on education, extension, research, and innovation in farming.

In the afternoon, there will be a public debate on the community action plan on the protection and welfare of animals.

There will also be a policy debate on the proposal for rules on the welfare of chickens kept for meat production.

The Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner will then update the Council on developments with regard to the spread of the Avian Influenza H5N1 virus.

The Czech Republic will draw attention to the UN Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare, and the desirability of third countries also having high animal welfare standards.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Laboratory Strategy

My noble Friend Lord Rooker has agreed to the next stage for DEFRA’s laboratory strategy. The aim remains to secure a long-term sustainable future for DEFRA’s laboratories—the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), the Central Science Laboratory (CSL), and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA)—in order to preserve DEFRA’s access to essential scientific services.

We have considered carefully the potential to secure the long-term sustainability of CEFAS and CSL under the existing model of DEFRA executive agency, against DEFRA’s projections for the likely level and type of demand for their services over a 12-year period. At the same time, we have looked at the potential impact of different ownership models involving all or some degree of continued public sector ownership.

CEFAS will continue to be a strategic public sector partner of the Department providing high-quality science to conserve and enhance the aquatic environment, promote sustainable management of its natural resources, and protect the public from aquatic contaminants. We have concluded that the way to secure a sustainable future is to consolidate its activities out of facilities at Lowestoft and Burnham on Crouch, which are not suitable for future needs, into a new fit for purpose site along with growing its non-DEFRA business and making further efficiencies.

To this end we have asked the chief executive of CEFAS to continue working with Waveney district council, Suffolk county council and the East of England development agency to develop plans to move on to a new fit for purpose and more efficient site in Lowestoft as part of an urban regeneration programme.

We have also concluded that the Department needs to retain the capacity of the CEFAS Weymouth laboratory. This laboratory will therefore not be part of this relocation and will remain open.

It is currently anticipated that the relocation will be completed by 2009.

CEFAS has developed its non-DEFRA business and we see potential for it to continue to do this for both public and private sector clients. Recognising this, we see some business benefits from exploring further a possible change of status fully within the public sector. We shall begin this when the transformation programme is sufficiently under way.

As for CSL, against a background of changing demands for its services, we have concluded that further work should be undertaken to develop a new business plan, which better reflects DEFRA’s future changing demand requirements and wider Government needs. In parallel with the development of a new business model, consideration will also be given as to whether a change in status would bring additional business benefits to secure a long-term sustainable future for CSL. In light of this further work, we would hope to take a decision on CSL by early next year and will update the House when I have done so. We recognise that this prolongs the uncertainty faced by the agency's staff, but we are convinced that this is the right course of action given the significance of the decision that must be taken.

For the VLA, DEFRA is continuing to work with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to consider the future relationship between VLA and the Institute of Animal Health (IAH). This work is now considering all possible options for the future closer integration of the science carried out at VLA and IAH including options for closer collaboration or amalgamation. It is anticipated that it will report to DEFRA and the BBSRC by the end of 2006.

Northern Ireland

Ordnance Survey

I have today arranged for the Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Corporate Plan 2006-09 and Business Plan 2006-07 document to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. This document will also be made available on the Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland website at: www.osni.gov.uk.