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Mr. Nicholas Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what plans he has to increase housing investment over the next five years; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Mullin: When this Government came to power they inherited spending plans under which capital investment in housing was set to fall from £1.54 billion in 1997-98 to £1.37 billion by 1999-2000. We took early action to reverse this decline through our Capital Receipts Initiative and the Comprehensive Spending Review. As a result, we are making available nearly £5 billion extra over the life of this Parliament. In 2001-02, capital investment in housing will be over £3 billion--double the level we inherited in 1997-98. Our current Spending Review will determine investment levels in future years and decisions will be announced in the summer.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what assessment he has made of the link between investment in housing and directly and indirectly related employment creation. 
Mr. Mullin: There are a number of important links between housing and employment, many of which are set out in our Housing Green Paper, "Quality and Choice: A decent home for all". Housing investment supports employment in the construction industry, while the provision of decent homes enhances people's educational attainment and employment opportunities. The Government are investing nearly £5 billion extra in housing over the life of this Parliament.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make a statement on the priorities for housing in this year's comprehensive spending review. 
Mr. Mullin: Our aim is to offer everyone the opportunity of a decent home, so promoting social cohesion, well-being and self-dependence. Our priorities are set out in the Housing Green Paper, "Quality and Choice: A decent home for all"--widely recognised as the most comprehensive review of housing for over 20 years.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will take steps to develop action zones in areas where the market has failed to provide sufficient housing in order to promote the development of additional housing. 
Mr. Mullin: The Government are not aware of any areas where the market is failing to provide a sufficient amount of housing but we are aware of examples where housing is not necessarily of the right quality or design, and where it does not meet the most urgent needs of the community. That is why we have put in place the range of policies set out in revised Planning Policy Guidance for housing--PPG3--and our Housing Green Paper, "Quality and Choice: A decent home for all". Our policies encourage more sustainable patterns of development, improvements in quality and design, better use of existing housing, and the provision of more affordable housing.
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Mr. Nicholas Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will estimate the number of additional affordable homes required in each of the next five years; and how many are currently provided for under the Housing Corporation Programme and the local authority social housing grant. 
Mr. Mullin: We do not make national estimates of housing need, since these are unable to adequately reflect the diversity of needs and priorities at the local level. The Housing Corporation forecast that the Approved Development Programme will provide around 18,000 homes for rent, and 4,000 homes for sale on a low cost basis in 2000-01. The Housing Corporation also forecast around 11,000 completions in 2000-01 through Local Authority Social Housing Grant.
Mr. Sayeed: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if his Department will ensure that practising marine surveyors are professionally qualified and covered by professional indemnity insurance. 
Mr. Hill: Marine surveyors are required to hold professional qualifications before they can apply to join the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA--an executive Agency of my Department). Their training needs are reviewed on an annual basis as part of the MCA's performance appraisal and development system to ensure they remain up to date and qualified for the jobs they are required to undertake.
Sir Peter Emery: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what steps his Department plans to take concerning the lack of a waste strategy plan for landfill sites in Devon after 2007. 
Mr. Meacher: Devon county council is preparing a Waste Local Plan for Devon to cover the period up to 2011 (the Plan will not include the administrative areas of Plymouth City council, Torbay council and Dartmoor National Park Authority as they will be covered by the emerging Local Plans of those authorities).
In October 1998, the county council consulted interested parties about the draft Waste Local Plan which contained policies for waste disposal by landfill. In their response to the consultation, the Government Office for the South-West commented that:
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Mr. Sayeed: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what was the average time taken to report on incidents involving (a) gas explosions and (b) fires in the last 12 months for which statistics are available. 
Mr. Meacher: On the assumption that the question refers to the average time taken by HSE inspectors to report on such incidents following investigation, the answer is that data are not maintained that would provide an average time for the completion of a report. The time taken depends on the nature of the incident and the complexity of the investigation; one recent example has taken five months while another was completed in 48 hours.
Mr. Sayeed: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what procedures exist to ensure that lessons learnt from inquiries into gas explosions are circulated to local authorities, housing associations, and those involved in gas installations. 
Mr. Meacher: It is normal practice to publish public inquiry reports, for example those which covered gas explosions at Ronan Point and Putney. These and other serious accident investigations inform the development of regulatory controls governing gas installation and use, and related guidance for duty holders.
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Mr. Sayeed: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when was the last time his Department issued guidelines to local authorities, housing associations and house builders on safety relating to gas installations. 
Mr. Meacher: The Health and Safety Commission approved on 12 October 1998 a Code of Practice giving practical guidance on complying with the provisions of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998. Guidelines were issued to local authority enforcement officers on the enforcement of the Regulations in assigned premises in November 1999.
In addition, the Building Regulations make requirements for the safe accommodation of combustion installations in buildings. Approved Document J, which supports the legal requirements, gives technical guidance on some ways of achieving compliance when installing gas combustion systems; this would include following the recommendations in certain British Standards. Approved Document J was last amended in 1989, and the current edition came into effect on 1 April 1990.
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