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Coal Industry

Liz Blackman: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what factors governed the composition of the Steering Committee of his Department's project on chemical variation and end users of coal. [32565]

Mr. Raynsford: The factors involved in this selection included the need to obtain commercially sensitive information from suppliers, users and the owners of coal, to ensure that those responsible for coal industry regulation and for advising on planning applications to extract coal were involved, and to obtain the views of the communities directly affected by the industry's operations.

Local Government Finance

Mr. Fallon: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will list those local authorities in the North East Region which have not (a) made representations or (b) sought meetings with Ministers, in respect of the local government financial settlement for 1998-99. [32724]

Mr. Raynsford: Of those authorities within the boundary of the Government Office for the North East, the following did not make written representations during consultation on the provisional local government finance settlement 1998/99:











In addition, the following did not seek meetings with Ministers during consultation on our proposals:



    Redcar & Cleveland


    Stockton on Tees


    Chester le Street


    Darlington


    Derwentside


    Wear Valley


    Alnwick


    Berwick upon Tweed


    Blyth Valley


    Tynedale


    Gateshead


    Durham City


    Easington


    Sedgefield


    Teesdale


    Sunderland


    Cleveland Constabulary


    Durham Constabulary


    Northumbria Police Authority.

4 Mar 1998 : Column: 650

Private Hire Vehicles

Mr. Green: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what plans he has to change regulations concerning (a) private hire vehicles and (b) the eligibility of drivers to drive private hire vehicles; and when any new regulations will come into force. [32537]

Ms Glenda Jackson: My Department consulted last year on a proposal to make an order under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, with a view to relaxing the constraints on who may drive licensed private hire vehicles in the light of the Benson v. Boyce judgment. The results of that consultation process are at present under consideration.

Telecommunications Masts

Ms McCafferty: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what plans the Government have to control the spread of mobile phone communications masts and to establish how many have been erected (a) with and (b) without planning permission; and if he will halt further developments. [31790]

Mr. Raynsford [holding answer 2 March 1998]: This Government's general policy on tele- communications development is to facilitate the growth of telecommunications systems while protecting the environment. We attach considerable importance to minimising the environmental impact of tele- communications mast development. For that reason, we last year announced our expectation that operators would provide evidence to local planning authorities that they have carefully considered the use of existing masts, buildings and other structures before seeking to erect any new mast. Telecommunication operators licensed by the Department of Trade and Industry generally have permitted development rights to erect masts of up to 15 m in height, subject to a prior approval procedure. This gives the local planning authority the opportunity to say whether it wishes to approve, within 28 days, details of the mast's siting and appearance. If the authority considers that the development will pose a serious threat to amenity, it may refuse approval. A planning application is required for the erection of masts in protected areas such as National parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and conservation areas, and for masts above 15 m in height elsewhere. It is open to the local planning authority to take enforcement action against masts which enjoy neither permitted development rights nor planning permission. We have no plans to collect centrally information on the number of masts erected (a) with and (b) without planning permission.

Ms McCafferty: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what plans the Government have to protect (a) ancient woodland and (b) sensitive wildlife habitats from damage by telephone communications masts. [31791]

Mr. Raynsford [holding answer 2 March 1998]: Planning Policy Guidance note 9: Nature Conservation gives guidance on how the Government's policies for the conservation of our natural heritage are to be reflected in land use planning. Local authorities are advised that development plans should include planning policies to be

4 Mar 1998 : Column: 651

applied to nature conservation sites. Such policies should have regard to the relevant guidance given in PPG9. Key ancient woodland and sensitive wildlife sites in England receive protection from development through designation by English Nature as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). Other mechanisms which offer protection to ancient woodlands include the requirement to obtain felling licences and the use of tree preservation orders by local planning authorities.

As I explained in my earlier answer to my hon. Friend today, telecommunications mast development is subject to either a full planning application or a prior approval procedure. Where a mast is proposed in an SSSI that lies within a designated area such as a National Park, an area of outstanding natural beauty or conservation area, or where the proposed mast exceeds 15 m in height, a full planning application will be required. The planning authority is required to consult English Nature before granting permission for development in an SSSI. Where a mast is proposed in an SSSI outside such designated areas, the local planning authority is able to give or refuse approval to siting and appearance under the "prior approval procedure". The Code of Best Practice for handling mast/tower proposals under this procedure, published by my Department, highlights the need for early consultation in these cases between the operator, local planning authority and English Nature.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest also derive protection from the requirement for owners and occupiers to notify English Nature of plans to carry out specified operations which it has listed as likely to damage the interest of the site. This could include the erection of telecommunications masts. Notification enables English Nature to consider whether to give consent to the scheme or to invite the owner or occupier to discuss possible modifications.

Air Traffic Control

Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make a statement on the progress in developing the Swanwick Air Traffic Control Centre, indicating the proposed opening date for the new centre. [32725]

Ms Glenda Jackson: I refer the hon. Member to the oral answer given by my noble Friend Baroness Farrington to Lord Campbell on 26 February 1998, Official Report, House of Lords, column 787.

New Forest

Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make a statement regarding his plans to consult about the future status of the New Forest. [32624]

Angela Eagle: The Countryside Commission will report to Ministers later in the spring on a number of issues relating to the protection of nationally important landscapes. The report will include initial advice on whether National Park status might be a more effective and appropriate solution for any of the areas, including the New Forest, which may be considered as in need of particular protection. All the options for the future protection of the New Forest will be considered very thoroughly in the light of the Commission's advice. The

4 Mar 1998 : Column: 652

New Forest Committee has also carried out its own consultation, the results of which will be taken into account.

Parish Councils

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what recourse is open to a member of the public who is dissatisfied with the treatment he receives from his parish council. [32271]

Mr. Raynsford [holding answer 3 March 1998]: Individual electors can raise any concern they have about the business or conduct of a parish council at the parish meeting. Where parish councils carry out a function on behalf of a local authority, complaints alleging injustice on account of maladministration may be investigated by the Local Government Ombudsman.

Building Regulations

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what plans he has to extend the scope of Part M of the Building Regulations to apply to buildings requiring a change of use. [32595]

Mr. Raynsford [holding answer 3 March 1998]: There are no current plans for extending the scope of Part M of the Building Regulations to buildings requiring a change of use. Any proposal for making such a change would need to take into account the implications of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and any future legislation relating to disabled people.

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what plans he has to incorporate Part M of the Building Regulations into the criteria for planning approval, when an applicant applies for a change of use. [32596]

Mr. Raynsford [holding answer 3 March 1998]: The planning system and approval under the building regulations are two separate control regimes with their own objectives and criteria. Planning Policy Guidance Note 1, "General Policy and Principles" explains that


We have no plans to make planning permission conditional on obtaining other forms of consent. However, access issues can be material considerations under the planning system and PPGI advises that



    "Local planning authorities, both in development plans and in determining individual planning applications, should take into account access issues".


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