Written Ministerial Statements
Tuesday 9 October 2007
Communities and Local Government
Today my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his pre-Budget report that the Government intend to legislate in the forthcoming Planning Reform Bill for a new statutory planning charge to enable councils to capture greater levels of planning gain to support new infrastructure and housing. This investment will be in addition to section 106 agreements, the £1.7 billion targeted infrastructure investment to support growing areas from the Communities and Local Government comprehensive spending review, and the additional mainstream support for infrastructure investment through programmes such as Crossrail. This statement sets out further details of the new statutory planning charge.
This Government believe that everyone deserves a decent home at an affordable price. Homes are the building blocks of our communities and are essential to ensure a sustainable future for the next generation. That is why the Housing Green Paper published in July 2007 set out ambitious plans for delivering three million new homes by 2020.
For new homes and communities to be sustainable, we also need to invest in the infrastructure needed to support the people who live in them—transport, hospitals, schools and community spaces. Through the planning system local communities can secure a contribution to this infrastructure from developers, via section 106 agreements. But only a small proportion of all developments currently contribute to the costs of infrastructure in this way. The current system is also limited in the extent to which it is able to mitigate the cumulative impacts of development on infrastructure, and local authority use of these powers varies significantly. Therefore a new mechanism which properly addresses these concerns is required.
The Government also believe that it is right and fair that local communities should benefit more from the uplifts in land value arising from planning permission to finance the infrastructure needed to support housing growth. This is why, as part of our response to Kate Barker’s review of Housing Supply, published in 2004, the Government accepted her recommendation in principle and consulted on proposals for a PGS. In the Housing Green Paper we also asked stakeholders to put forward alternative approaches for capturing more planning gain for consideration.
The Government welcome the constructive and focused way in which stakeholders have engaged with this challenge since the Green Paper. This has included a clear recognition on the part of the development industry that it is right that they should contribute more to the costs of infrastructure needed to support housing delivery. Many in the industry—including the British Property Federation, the Home Builders Federation, London First and the Major Developers Group have supported proposals for planning charges, building on the current section 106 approach and the tariff models developed by Milton Keynes and other areas. The Local Government Association has also supported a similar approach.
Following these representations, and others, we have concluded that the best way at this stage to increase contributions towards infrastructure alongside greater house building is to take forward the Housing Green Paper option of a statutory planning charge.
Compared with the existing system, we believe our proposals will:
Capture more planning gain to finance additional investment in local and strategic infrastructure, while preserving incentives to develop.
Make the planning charge-setting process simpler and more certain. By giving a clear basis on which to set a planning charge to support the delivery of planned infrastructure,
Provide a fairer means of securing contributions from developers for infrastructure. At present, infrastructure benefits for local communities are typically secured from major developments only.
Encourage regions and local authorities to plan positively for housing and economic growth and for the infrastructure needed to deliver it, and, in the plan context, to decide priorities and detailed charging arrangements which reflect local and regional needs and circumstances.
The Government’s approach builds on the strengths of the current system and experience from areas where a form of charging is already being applied. We therefore propose to include provisions to introduce statutory planning charges in the forthcoming Planning Reform Bill, and we will not be introducing a Planning Gain Supplement Bill in the next parliamentary session. We will keep under close review the development and operation of statutory planning charges to make sure that they achieve our aims of increasing investment in infrastructure alongside supporting new development.
These provisions will empower local authorities to apply standard planning charges for all new development in their areas to support infrastructure delivery. The main features of the planning charge will be as follows:
Subject to low de minimis thresholds, residential and commercial development will be liable to pay the planning charge.
Where appropriate local authorities will be able to use planning charges to supplement a negotiated agreement. Negotiated agreements will still be necessary to secure affordable housing and to address costs related to the specific development site.
Planning charges should be based on a costed assessment of the infrastructure requirements arising specifically out of the development contemplated by the development plan for the area (which comprises the regional spatial strategy and the local development framework), taking account of land values.
Planning charges should include contributions towards the costs of infrastructure of sub-regional and regional importance identified in development plans.
Planning charge policies in development plans will be tested through the development plan process, in consultation with developers, stakeholders and the community to ensure they support the viability of new development and levels of new housing required.
The level of support which both the development industry and the local government community have now offered for increasing resources through a planning charge approach is very welcome and provides an important basis on which to implement the proposals successfully. We will be in touch with the development industry and local government very shortly to discuss how we can best work with them and other stakeholders as we prepare the new legislation, and put new planning charges in place.
As with other policies, once the planning charge has been introduced the Government will carry out an evaluation to ensure that its objectives—a step change in infrastructure provision to deliver more homes in more sustainable communities, funded by a fair contribution from development—have been achieved.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Iraq: Assistance to Locally Employed Staff
On 8 August the Prime Minister announced a review of the Government’s assistance to our locally engaged staff in Iraq. The Defence Secretary, Home Secretary, Secretary of State for International Development, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and I have now agreed on the elements of a scheme.
Locally engaged Iraqi staff working for our armed forces and civilian missions in Iraq have made an invaluable contribution, in uniquely difficult circumstances, to the UK’s efforts to support security, stability and development in the new Iraq. We are hugely grateful to them for their contribution, which continues to be essential to the delivery of our mission in Iraq.
In recognition of that, we have decided to offer those staff, on an ex gratia basis, assistance which goes above and beyond the confines of what is lawfully or contractually required. Assistance will be based on objective criteria, taking into account determinable and relevant factors. It is offered in recognition of the service by these courageous Iraqis in direct support of HMG’s efforts to help the Iraqi Government and people build a peaceful, stable and prosperous Iraq.
The assistance announced by the Prime Minister yesterday will allow Iraqi staff, including but not limited to interpreters, currently working1 for HMG in Iraq, who have attained 12 months or more continuous service, to apply for a one-off package of financial assistance of between six and 12 months salary, depending on length of service, to meet the costs of relocation for themselves and their dependants in Iraq or the region, if they are made redundant or have to resign from their job because of what we judge to be exceptional circumstances. Alternatively, these staff will be able to apply for exceptional leave to enter the UK, or to avail themselves of the opportunity for resettlement in the UK through the UK’s Gateway refugee resettlement programme, provided that they meet the criteria for the programme, including that they satisfy UNHCR that they meet the criteria of the 1951 convention and need resettlement.
In addition, interpreters/translators and other Iraqi staff serving in similarly skilled or professional roles necessitating the regular use of written or spoken English, who formerly worked for HMG in Iraq, will be able to apply for assistance for themselves and their dependants provided that they satisfactorily completed a minimum of 12 months service, and they were in our employ on or after 1 January 2005. Former staff meeting those criteria will be able to apply for a one-off package of financial assistance similar to that available for serving staff, or to avail themselves of the opportunity for resettlement in the UK through the Gateway programme as set out above.
This assistance will principally apply to Iraqi nationals who meet the eligibility criteria set out above, and who work, or have worked, in Iraq in the following capacities:
as direct employees of the UK armed forces or the Ministry of Defence;
on letters of appointment from the British embassy in Baghdad or the British embassy offices in Basra and the Kurdistan region;
as direct employees of DFID and the British Council.
In addition, we are considering what assistance may be provided to a limited number of contracted staff meeting the eligibility criteria who have worked in particularly close association with us as an integral part of HMG programmes, projects and operations in Iraq.
We will announce further details, including on how eligible staff may apply, before the end of the month.
1defined as those working for our civilian missions or armed forces on or after 8 August 2007, the date on which the review of policy was announced.
Justice and Home Affairs Informal Council 1 and 2 October
The informal Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council was held in Lisbon on the 1 and 2 October 2007. The Home Secretary, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Bridget Prentice) and I attended on behalf of the United Kingdom. The following main issues were discussed at the Council and, since it was an informal Council, no formal decisions were taken.
The first session opened with an introduction to the new counter-terrorism co-ordinator, Gilles de Kerchove. The presidency stressed that he would need to be a key link between the Commission and the Council. The Commission introduced the legislative package it was planning to present in November which would include an amended framework decision on terrorism, work on explosives, and an EU system for the exchange of passenger name records.
The UK thanked member states for their support in tackling terrorism in the UK and acknowledged that terrorism was an EU-wide problem. The UK and others highlighted the importance of data sharing and using databases to support law enforcement to strengthen the EU’s security. The UK supported targeted information exchange. The presidency concluded that preventing radicalisation needed joining up of all information sources. There would be further discussion at EU level.
In a discussion on deportation with assurances, the UK emphasised that deportation was an important tool, but exposed a difficult balance: ensuring we could deport an individual deemed a risk to our security while protecting that individual’s rights. The UK fully endorsed the use of technology, for example CCTV, in combating terrorism.
The presidency subsequently introduced its paper on the importance of automatic border crossing systems and the Schengen information system. The Commission expanded on this paper by stating that existing visa systems were outdated and, in the medium-term, the EU should look to implement a comprehensive entry/exit system. This was broadly welcomed.
The UK welcomed work on inter-operable systems noting that the use of screening technology had facilitated over 1,200 arrests in the UK. Iris recognition helped ease passage through airports, and gave confidence in identity. The UK advocated sharing such technology since it would enhance member state security.
Member states agreed to use new technologies in border control, with the right protections. Frontex was an essential tool for border management and there was agreement that biometric passports were needed in the EU, and around the world.
On e-justice, member states confirmed that work should continue on the basis of the Council’s decision in June. While electronic means of working should be encouraged, there should not be any legislation making the use of e-justice methods compulsory. Rather, work should continue on the basis of the sharing of best practice. It was agreed that the proposed e-justice portal should include information on missing and abducted children.
Child protection was discussed on the second day of the Council. The UK highlighted the issue of monitoring sex offenders across the EU. While acknowledging offenders right to re-build their lives, liberty needed to be balanced with the risk of re-offending through proportionate monitoring measures. However some member states had their concerns. The UK supported any practical measures to track missing children, and suggested a child abduction taskforce, to look at solutions across the EU.
Member states recommended efficient co-operation and working with relevant national authorities, EU bodies and agencies allowing for joint and co-ordinated work on the prevention and fight against child abuse. Member states agreed that co-operation and exchange of information between relevant national authorities and Europol and Eurojust must be reinforced. EU Ministers accepted that promoting a legislative solution was not the only answer to the problem but that the adoption of concrete measures at EU level led to effective and immediate improvement of child protection.
Member states agreed to interconnect (already existing in some member states) national child alert systems. This could be implemented without any legislation, complementing co-operation between relevant national authorities. It was agreed that crimes committed against children via the internet should be condemned and punished; the Commission was asked to present proposals for measures designed to improve prevention and the fight against those actions. EU Ministers recommended that European and international legislative instruments to fight cybercrime committed against minors should be ratified and enforced by member states. EU Ministers strongly agreed that the promotion of children’s rights and the protection of children must constitute a priority in the context of external relations, namely with the EU’s neighbour countries.
Police Performance Assessments 2006-07
Today I have published “Police Performance Assessments 2006-07” covering the 43 individual police forces in England and Wales. This publication has been brought together by the Home Office’s police and crime standards directorate (PCSD) and Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary (HMIC) and this is the third year that such assessments have been published. Copies will be placed in the House Library and in the Vote Office. The publication of these assessments represents an important part of the Government’s reform programme for public services. We want to see policing which is visible, accessible and responsive.
As in last year’s report, tables have been used to provide an understandable summary of performance for each of the 43 police forces in key performance areas. Forces are assigned the clear judgments “excellent”, “good, “fair” and “poor”. The publication is complemented by comprehensive information (including data and technical definitions) available via the Home Office website at: http://police.homeoffice.gov.uk/performance.
However, this year’s assessments reflect new arrangements for inspection. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary (HMIC) has moved to a programme of risk-based inspection, focusing less on high volume, low risk issues and probing instead those areas which pose a major risk of harm to individuals. The results of this new inspection programme are included within the assessment, providing a rounded assessment of policing across England and Wales.
For this year, the focus of inspection has been on protecting the most vulnerable, and on ensuring the successful delivery of our programme of neighbourhood policing. Results for these inspection areas are included within the assessment for each force. Our progress towards the national roll-out of neighbourhood policing was marked when we achieved our target to recruit 16,000 police community support officers, providing valuable local resources to build relationships and address problems in local communities.
These assessments are intended to provide the public with a clear view on how well policing is being delivered in their area. In addition to these assessments, police authorities have a statutory responsibility to provide local information to every household in their communities on the policing priorities for their area, and to explain who is responsible and accountable for their delivery, as well as reporting on how effectively these policing priorities have been discharged.
This framework ensures that local police forces can be held to account for delivery of key services to local communities. It also provides a mechanism for improving performance, and has enabled forces—with the support of their police authorities—to identify strengths and weakness across their responsibilities, thereby reducing the need for external inspections, reviews or other interventions.
As we move forward—and as noted in the Home Office reform action plan—the assessments will be developed further into a broader framework for crime, drugs and policing. 2006-07 is the first transition year towards this new framework, which is planned for introduction in 2008-09. This broader framework will be the means by which we assess not just the success of the police service, but also the way in which police and other local delivery agencies work together in partnership to make communities safer.
Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation
I have today laid in the House the draft Renewable Transport Fuel Obligations Order 2007, together with its associated impact assessment and explanatory memorandum. Subject to the approval of both Houses, this order is due to give effect to the Government's renewable transport fuel obligation (RTFO) and to establish the Office of the Renewable Fuels Agency (RFA).
The RTFO is due to lead to a significant reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases from the transport sector by increasing the use of biofuels. The Government have sought stakeholders' views on the detailed design of the RTFO in two separate consultation exercises during the course of 2007, and has made a number of changes to the order and impact assessment to take account of the comments received.
The impact assessment which I am publishing today explains that the Government have revised downwards their estimate of the carbon savings that the RTFO is likely to deliver, and have revised upwards their estimate of the total costs of the policy. The total net carbon savings associated with the RTFO are now estimated at around 2.6 to 3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (700,000 to 800,000 tonnes of carbon) per annum in 2010-11, as opposed to earlier forecasts which suggested that they should be in the region of 3.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (1 million tonnes of carbon) per annum. These changes have been made to reflect more accurately the marginal impact that biofuels may have on the fuel efficiency of vehicles, an issue that was raised by a number of stakeholders during the consultation process, as well as to reflect other methodological changes. Further details are set out in the impact assessment.
In practice, the environmental benefits that the RTFO is set to deliver will depend on a large number of assumptions, including the total amount of road transport fuel sales in any given year, the market share of different types of biofuel, and the amount of energy used to cultivate, harvest, process and transport the biofuels themselves. The costs of the RTFO will depend to a large extent on the relative difference in price between crude oil and agricultural commodities, which fluctuate widely.
The RTFO will provide the impetus for a long-term market for biofuels in the UK.