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Volume 463: debated on Thursday 19 July 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what discussions he has had with local community councils and Action for Communities in Rural England on the potential impact of a substantial take-up by farmers of energy bio-crops on rural communities. (149414)

I have held no specific discussions with Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) on this subject.

Energy crops can make a valuable contribution to Government’s climate change and overall sustainability objectives, by cutting greenhouse gas emissions, reducing dependence on fossil fuels and stimulating economic activity in rural areas.

The recently published UK Biomass Strategy provides a framework for a major expansion in the sustainable use of biomass as a source of electricity, heat and power, and to make transport biofuels and renewable materials for industry. It estimates that there is potential to use up to 350,000 hectares of land across the UK by 2020 to grow perennial energy crops, without any detrimental effect on food supplies. This would provide important opportunities for agriculture and land based sectors and those involved throughout the bioenergy supply chains.

Government will establish appropriate environmental safeguards to deliver an expansion of biomass production in a sustainable way. Crops planted under DEFRA’s Energy Crops Scheme are already subject to an environmental assessment before planting to include landscape, archaeology and wildlife considerations.

We will continue to work with stakeholders, including farming, industry and environmental interests as well as regional bodies and local community groups to deliver the policies set out in the Biomass Strategy.