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Written Statements

Volume 518: debated on Thursday 18 November 2010

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 18 November 2010

Communities and Local Government

Planning Reform

I am announcing today reforms to the community infrastructure levy. The levy came into force in April 2010 and gives local authorities in England and Wales the option to raise funds from developers undertaking new building projects in their area.

The money can be used to fund a wide range of infrastructure that is needed as a result of development. This includes: transport schemes, flood defences, schools, hospitals and other health and social care facilities, parks, green spaces and leisure centres.

The Government have decided that this tariff-based approach provides the best framework to fund new infrastructure to unlock land for growth. The community infrastructure levy is fairer, faster, more certain and more transparent than the use of the existing system of planning obligations to collect standardised contributions. Levy rates will be set in consultation with local communities and developers and will provide developers with much more certainty “up front” about how much money they will be expected to contribute.

Under the system of planning obligations only 6% of all planning permissions brought any contribution to the cost of supporting infrastructure, when even small developments can create a need for new services. The levy creates a fairer system for collecting tariff contributions, with all but the smallest building projects making a contribution towards additional infrastructure that is needed as a result of their development.

However, currently too little of the benefits of development go to those directly affected, and our ambition is to correct that. Therefore, the existing powers to set a community infrastructure levy will be reformed so communities have more control over how it works, and developers benefit from a more flexible system.

New neighbourhood funds

The Government will require charging authorities to allocate a meaningful proportion of levy revenues raised in each neighbourhood back to that neighbourhood. This will ensure that where a neighbourhood bears the brunt of a new development, it receives sufficient money to help it manage those impacts. It complements the introduction of other powerful new incentives for local authorities that will ensure that local areas benefit from development they welcome.

Local authorities will need to work closely with neighbourhoods to decide what infrastructure they require, and balance neighbourhood funding with wider infrastructure funding that supports growth. They will retain the ability to use the levy income to address the cumulative impact on infrastructure that may occur further away from the development.

More flexibility for local authorities over levy rates

The Government will include provisions in the localism Bill to limit the binding nature of the examiners’ reports on levy rates. Currently, an examiner scrutinises a council’s levy rates, and all changes that they request are binding, including the rates set for specific areas or types of development.

Examiners will now only be able to ensure councils do not set unreasonable charges. Councils will be required to correct charges that examiners consider to be unreasonable, but they will have more discretion on how this is done—for example, they could depart from the detail of the examiner’s recommendations on the mix of charges to be applied to different classes of development or the rates to be applied in different parts of their area.

Most affordable housing and charity development will continue to be exempt from the levy.

Additional flexibilities for levy charging authorities

The Government want councils to have more control over the working of the levy. Changes to the existing regulations will therefore include:

Freeing up payment arrangements—local authorities will be able to decide their own levy payment deadlines and whether to offer the option of paying by instalments;

Removing the £50,000 minimum threshold so authorities can accept a payment in kind for any level of contribution;

Minor amendments to secondary legislation to close potential loopholes and improve how the levy system works, for example, reducing burdens by scaling back information requirements on the “notice of chargeable development”.

Planning obligations

The Government are confirming that there will be no significant change to the arrangements relating to planning obligations set out in the existing community infrastructure levy regulations. Planning obligations will continue to be used to mitigate the direct impacts of specific developments and to fund affordable housing; however, their use to collect standardised tariff-style contributions will be phased out in favour of the levy by 2014.

Transitional arrangements, timing and next steps

Local authorities that have decided to introduce a community infrastructure levy charge on the basis of the current legislation can now do so.

Local authorities who take steps now to adopt a charging schedule will not need to return to an earlier stage of the process when these changes take effect. And local authorities that have already adopted the levy before the reforms come into effect will be able to take advantage of the new flexibilities without having to review their charging schedules.

The Government aim to publish draft regulations for debate in Parliament in the new year. It would bring the changes into effect on 6 April 2011.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

General Affairs and Foreign Affairs Councils

The Foreign Affairs Council and General Affairs Council will meet in Brussels on 22 November. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will attend the Foreign Affairs Council. I will attend the General Affairs Council.

General Affairs Council (GAC)

Follow-up to the September European Council and preparations for the December Council

The presidency will review the outcomes of the October European Council and set out the main themes of the December European Council, which takes place in Brussels on 16 and 17 December. No agenda for the December Council has yet been issued, but we expect that economic governance, the EU budget, enlargement and strategic partnerships will be covered briefly in this discussion.

Use of videoconferencing at Council

Ministers will be presented with proposals for the use of videoconferencing as part of contingency arrangements for EU ministerial meetings at times of crisis. This initiative builds on experiences with the volcanic dust cloud from Iceland which disrupted air travel within Europe earlier this year.

European Commissions Work Programme for 2011

The Commission’s work programme for 2011 outlines the Commission’s priorities for next year and lists initiatives it plans to launch. It has been put on the agenda as an information point only—we do not expect a discussion. An explanatory memorandum on the work programme will be laid before the House shortly. Detailed responses to policy initiatives will be given as legislative proposals are put forward.

Disaster relief

The Commissioner for International Co-operation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response (Kristalina Georgieva) will set out the Commission’s proposals for building EU disaster response capacity. The proposals will focus on the response to disasters inside and outside the EU; consider both civil protection and humanitarian assistance; and seek cost-effectiveness through use of common assets. The UK supports multilateral humanitarian response, but is not in favour of elaborate new structures.

Foreign Affairs Council (FAC)

EUs Strategic Partners

Baroness Ashton will set out her latest thinking on enhancing the EU’s strategic relationships. This follows the September European Council mandate, which required her to present a set of proposals in December. The UK wants more focused engagement with EU strategic partners—for example, our position for the India and Russia summits are set out below.

Burma

Ministers will discuss recent developments in Burma including the flawed elections of 7 November and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi on 13 November.

Baroness Ashton released a statement on 13 November following the release of Aung San Suu Kyi which can be found at:

http:/www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/l17708.pdf

This followed an earlier declaration of 7 November by Baroness Ashton, on behalf of the EU, on the elections in Burma which can be found at:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/l17549.pdf

The UK was closely involved in the drafting the declaration of 7 November which reflects our serious concern about the nature of the elections. The Prime Minister made a statement about the release of Aung San Suu Kyi to the House of Commons on 15 November.

Summit Preparations (Africa, India, Russia and OSCE)

Baroness Ashton will seek Ministers’ views on preparations for summits.

EU-Africa

The discussion on the EU-Africa summit of 29 and 30 November is an opportunity to use the EU to help deliver some of the UK’s objectives in Africa. The overarching themes of the summit are investment, economic growth and job creation. We expect the summit’s communiqué to contain a renewed political commitment to regional integration and trade facilitation. Additionally, the summit should endorse the outcome of discussions in New York on the African Union Mission in Somalia, (AMISOM). On current plans, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham) will represent the Prime Minister at the summit.

EU-India

The EU-India summit takes place on 10 December. We expect that the summit will complement our recent drive to enhance the UK’s bilateral ties with India. The FAC will consider the agenda and objectives of the summit which will focus on trade, climate change and regional and security issues of interest to both sides.

EU-Russia

The EU-Russia summit will be held on 7 December. The UK supports the proposed agenda which includes Russia’s WTO accession, negotiations on a new EU-Russia agreement, climate change and EU-Russia relations including support for the partnership for modernisation.

OSCE

Ministers will be invited to discuss preparations for the forthcoming summit (1 and 2 December) in Astana.

The UK delegation will be led by the Deputy Prime Minister. I will also attend. The summit will mark a key step in the Corfu process, set up in 2009 to address a Russian initiative on the future of European security in a comprehensive manner covering all three OSCE dimensions—human, economic and environment and politico-military. The UK and EU’s summit objectives are focused on four priority areas:

To strengthen the OSCE’s conflict prevention/resolution capabilities, including in relation to protracted conflicts, updating existing and considering new mechanisms as needed.

To reaffirm the OSCE’s commitments. Updating and strengthening of commitments in the areas of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of the media.

To strengthen the conventional arms control framework in Europe, including confidence and security building measures.

To enhance the role of the OSCE on Afghanistan, and more generally on countering transnational threats; for example, WMD proliferation, organised crime, terrorism, narcotics.

Iran

Ministers may discuss the state of the E3+3 (UK, France and Germany, and US, China and Russia) negotiations with Iran, depending on progress achieved. Ministers may also raise human rights in Iran.

Middle East Peace Process and Lebanon

Ministers may discuss developments in the US-led middle east peace talks and what the EU can do to support progress. On Lebanon, Ministers are expected to adopt conclusions that express concern about the current situation in Lebanon and supports the National Unity Government and the special tribunal process.

Sudan

Ministers will discuss the situation in Sudan. The UK will be looking for the EU to agree conclusions that set a clear agenda for what more can be done to ensure the successful completion of the comprehensive peace agreement, whatever the outcome of the referendum. The conclusions should stress the urgency needed on preparations for the referendum to take place in January. The Council will also discuss the conflict in Darfur, and may stress that efforts must continue to find an inclusive political solution to the Darfur conflict, and underline the importance of improving security and humanitarian access in Darfur. The UK will encourage a further discussion on Sudan in December.

Iraq

The discussion on Iraq will focus on the internal security situation and in particular recent attacks on the Christian community. The UK has condemned these attacks and others against Shia targets. A number of EU member states have also expressed concern over the attacks. The UK judges that it is important that the current (and future) Iraq Government protect all communities in Iraq, including minorities, against violence. Ministers may be asked to agree conclusions.

European Count of Justice (Appointment of Romanian Judge)

At a conference of representatives of Governments of member states on 18 November 2010 the appointment of a Romanian judge to the General Court is to be considered.

The nomination is in respect of Andrei Popescu.

Having consulted with the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice and the Attorney-General, I agree to the appointment.