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House of Commons Hansard
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Written Statements
09 March 2010
Volume 507

Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 9 March 2010

Communities and Local Government

Planning

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I am today publishing for consultation proposals for:

A Planning Policy Statement: “Planning for a Low-Carbon Future in a Changing Climate”.

A Planning Policy Statement: “Planning for a Natural and Healthy Environment”.

I am also today publishing as final policy Planning Policy Statement 25 Supplement: “Development and Coastal Change”.

I am placing copies of these two consultations, both of which close on 1 June, and the final policy on development and coastal change, along with an accompanying summary of consultation responses to that policy, in the Library of the House.

Moving towards a low-carbon economy requires a revolution in the way we design, heat and power our buildings. Planning must respond to this challenge, and help make low-carbon lifestyles the norm. Whatever is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the future, past emissions mean that some climate change is already inevitable. As well as planning for a low-carbon future we must therefore also plan for a future with a changing climate—and do this in a way that protects our natural and cultural heritage.

Planning for a Low-Carbon Future in a Changing Climate

The draft Planning Policy Statement: “Planning for a Low-Carbon Future in a Changing Climate” updates and brings together in one place existing planning policy on climate change and renewable energy. When finalised, this streamlined policy will be central to our national series of planning policy statements, and operate alongside the new suite of national policy statements for energy infrastructure. It will provide the overarching framework for our planning policies on climate change, both on measures to reduce carbon and to adapt to a changing climate.

We already have planning policy on climate change (published in 2007) and renewable energy (2004). This consultation brings together this policy into a single document and reflects the ambition to tackle climate change set out in the “Low Carbon Transition Plan”. This Government’s determination to transform how we use energy was underlined when we published on 2 March 2010 “Warm Homes, Greener Homes” www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/what_we_do/consumers/saving_energy/hem/hem.aspx. This strategy sets out the key role of local government and planning in driving the development of renewable heat networks.

Moving to a low-carbon economy will now be central to planning strategies and decisions on planning applications. Planning decisions will help business and communities build a low-carbon future, not stand in their way. In building this low-carbon future, we remain committed to protecting our valued natural and historic environments. We are making no change to established green belt policy. We need to plan for unprecedented changes but we do not expect local communities to acquiesce to proposals with unacceptable impacts.

To help introduce and operate this new planning policy, I am making available a package worth £9.75 million to develop the new skills and improve capacity across the range of local authority responsibilities needed to tackle climate change. This will help strengthen the skills and knowledge needed by planners, including in planning for increased renewable energy supply and encouraging local communities to take positive action on climate change.

Planning for a Natural and Healthy Environment

The new draft Planning Policy Statement: “Planning for a Natural and Healthy Environment” streamlines and consolidates existing planning policy on biodiversity, geological conservation, landscape, agricultural land quality, heritage and undeveloped coasts, open space, and land and facilities for sport and recreation. This provides a clearer and more strategic national policy framework for the protection and enhancement of the natural environment, and the provision of sufficient areas of open space, and land and facilities for sport and recreation to meet the needs of communities. In doing so, the policy statement demonstrates our commitment to the natural environment has not changed.

In bringing together policies on the natural environment and open spaces, I am also meeting the commitment made in “World Class Places” to publish planning policy to deliver green infrastructure. Green infrastructure can provide a wide range of environmental benefits in both rural and urban areas including flood water storage, sustainable drainage, urban cooling and local access to shady outdoor space. It also provides habitats for wildlife, and through the creation and enhancement of “green corridors”, should aid the natural migration of more species responding to the changing climate.

Development and Coastal Change

The supplement to Planning Policy Statement 25: “Development and Coastal Change” provides planning policy to help communities manage and adapt to coastal change. Positive planning has an important role in helping communities to manage risk and adapt to an ever changing coastline.

To complement the strong planning policy to manage coastal flooding in Planning Policy Statement 25 (PPS25), the new planning policy extends the PPS25 strategic risk-based approach to manage future physical changes to the coastline. This will help communities to adapt over time to changing coastlines. This will also prevent new development from being put at risk by avoiding inappropriate development in areas that are vulnerable to coastal change and directing development away from these areas. It provides a flexible planning approach so that appropriate development that would support the economic and social viability of a community is able to go ahead, but will be safe.

Culture, Media and Sport

Television Licence Fees

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On 18 January 2007, Official Report, column 933, the Minister for the Cabinet Office and the Olympics, and Paymaster General announced the planned annual increases in the TV licence fee under the BBC’s six-year funding settlement, which began in April 2007. In line with that settlement, from 1 April 2010, the fee for a colour television licence will rise to £145.50 and the fee for a black and white licence will rise to £49.00. I will today lay before the House the regulations necessary to bring these new fees into force.

Defence

Skynet 5D

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I wish to inform the House that my Department is extending our PFI contract with Paradigm, a wholly owned subsidiary of the EADS, to enable the communications satellite, Skynet 5D, to be completed and launched. The Skynet 5 constellation provides the communication capability vital to the success of our military operations. Skynet 5D is partially built and was originally designated as a back-up option should any Skynet 5 satellite fail to perform as required. Recent work has demonstrated that the current capability of the Skynet 5 constellation (Skynet 5A, B and C) will be exceeded by around the middle of this decade. Skynet 5D will be launched in 2013 to meet an anticipated increase in demand for communications bandwidth between 2015 and 2020.

The deal with Paradigm will increase the value of the PFI contract by over £400 million to about £3.5 billion. As well as securing essential military capability, it will also directly create around 100 new jobs, mainly at EADS Astrium/Paradigm sites in Portsmouth and Stevenage and sustain a large number at both sites and also in Corsham, Wiltshire.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Dangerous Dogs

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Together with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, I am today consulting on whether current legislation relating to dangerous dogs adequately protects the public and encourages responsible dog ownership. The aim is to review current legislation to better protect the public; help enforcers tackle those who abuse the law; and stop the abuse suffered by dogs that end up in the wrong hands. The consultation will run until 1 June, and during the consultation period, I will meet a wide variety of stakeholders to discuss their views. The consultation looks at:

extending dangerous dogs law to cover all places including private property;

giving police and councils more powers to tackle the problem of dangerous dogs by the introduction of dog control notices;

either getting rid of exemption rules that allow some people to keep banned types of dogs or if exemptions are to remain ensuring that the system works more effectively;

what to do about the list of banned breeds;

introduction of compulsory micro-chipping for dogs so that dog owners can be more easily traced; and,

introduction of compulsory third-party insurance so that victims of dog attacks are financially recompensed.

Copies of the consultation paper will be placed in the Vote Office and are available at: www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/dangerous-dogs/.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

HMT Contingency Fund

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The Foreign and Commonwealth Office requires a cash advance of £90 million from the Contingencies Fund to cover ongoing operational costs such as the payment of suppliers until Parliament has approved the spring supplementary estimates towards the end of March 2010.

Parliamentary approval for additional resources of £134,619,000 has been sought in the 2009-10 spring supplementary estimate for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £90 million will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund.

Justice

Bilingual Juries (Wales)

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The Welsh Language Act 1993 requires that in the conduct of public business and the administration of justice in Wales, English and Welsh are to be treated on the basis of equality, so far as is appropriate in the circumstances and reasonably practicable. Participants in criminal and civil trials in Wales have the right to use the Welsh language in court.

There is, however, no provision for ensuring that juries in Wales must be comprised of members who are bilingual in both Welsh and English. The reason for this is that juries must, by law, be selected at random from the whole community.

A consultation exercise on “The Use of Bilingual (English and Welsh-speaking) Juries in Certain Criminal Trials in Wales” was conducted between December 2005 and March 2006.

The consultation paper invited comments on the desirability of selecting juries in certain criminal trials in Wales, all of whose members would be bilingual in Welsh and English. A bilingual jury would be selected where, for example, it was likely that much of the evidence at the trial would be given in Welsh.

The consultation paper made it clear that the Government have not decided whether bilingual juries were desirable in principle, and would not consider this further until after the consultation period was over.

The subject is not straightforward because it is one of those which comes down to a choice between two good and desirable things—in this instance, the principle of random selection in the jury system and greater use of the Welsh language in court.

On this occasion the Government have decided not to proceed with bilingual juries, primarily because the balance of argument lies against their negative impact on the principle of random selection of juries from the community as a whole, and hence on social inclusion and justice.

I am placing a copy of the full Government response to the consultation in the Libraries of both Houses.

Transport

EU Transport Council

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The first Transport Council of the Spanish presidency will take place in Brussels on 11 March.

The Council will be asked to reach a general approach on a directive on transportable pressure equipment. The UK supports this directive. It will align with the changes to the international agreements on the carriage of dangerous goods by rail and road (RID & ADR) which form the annexes of Directive 2009/68/EC. This proposed directive has been developed by the Commission with the assistance of member states, including the UK, and industry. The proposed directive also takes the opportunity to provide greater clarity on the responsibilities of users, including owners, importers and manufacturers, and so should improve compliance and enforcement.

There will be a progress report on the proposal for a directive on aviation security charges. The UK will as ever work towards achieving a fair and proportionate outcome that balances the interests of passengers and airports.

The Council will be asked to reach a general approach on a regulation on investigation and prevention of accidents and incidents in civil aviation. The UK supports this measure in principle, as improved assistance and co-operation in the investigation of accidents and incidents would facilitate improved understanding of the causes of such events and lead to improved safety in aviation across Europe. My officials have been negotiating to secure amendments to the proposed regulation which better align it with UK interests. Good progress has been made on those areas of concern to the UK.

There will be information from the Commission on progress in the negotiations on a second stage EU-US Air Transport Agreement. This will be followed by a policy debate aimed at giving guidance to the Commission on taking forward the negotiations, with the aim of completing them this year.

The Council will receive information from the presidency followed by a policy debate on the outcome of the European Single Sky Conference (Madrid 25 and 26 February). The UK continues to be a firm supporter of the Single European Sky and its supporting technology programme, SESAR, and endorses the conclusions reached at the conference in Madrid on the Single European Sky second package and its associated roadmap. The roadmap sets out actions under four pillars—performance, safety, technology and airport capacity, and under an overarching fifth pillar (human factors) integral to the other four. A very tight deadline of 2012 is stipulated in the amended legislation.

Bus Passenger Services

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I am today announcing the publication of a 12-week consultation on improving bus passenger services through the regulatory framework. Copies of the consultation and impact assessment have been placed in the Libraries of the House.

It is my aim to modernise the local bus service regulatory framework and improve the passenger bus experience for everyone. As a result of discussions with stakeholders following the coming into force of the Local Transport Act regulations and guidance, and after careful consideration, the Department for Transport now seeks views on a small number of changes to secondary legislation. These changes would improve the provision of reliable and up-to-date information, reduce administrative costs for local authorities and bidders for service contracts, increase the scope for securing a better deal on fares for passengers and ensure stricter compliance with the code of conduct for drivers and passengers. This includes, as part of the Government’s commitment to improving personal security and safety on public transport, a proposal to ban the consumption of alcohol and/or carriage of an open container of alcohol on regulated schedule local bus services.

Taken as a whole, the proposals in this consultation should offer benefits to passengers, flexibility for operators, and improvements to bus services in general.