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Planning Guidance (South-East)

Fiona Mactaggart: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when he intends to make an announcement about Regional Planning Guidance for the south-east. [143600]

Mr. Raynsford: Earlier this year, the Government published for consultation proposed changes to draft Regional Planning Guidance for the south-east. We have listened to comments made and strengthened our policies for delivering an urban renaissance, providing affordable housing, avoiding profligate use of land, promoting a living countryside and encouraging development to the east of London in Thames Gateway.

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We have given local authorities the tools they need to achieve this. Our planning guidance for housing (PPG3) contains a clearly-stated presumption that previously- developed land and existing buildings will be re-used for housing before consideration is given to developing greenfields. The draft revised RPG will set a target for the south-east that 60 per cent. of additional dwellings should be provided by recycling land or converting existing buildings.

We have separately published advice on better design of development and on undertaking urban housing capacity studies. We have also made available (initially for comment) guidance on how to manage the release of land in such a way as to minimise unnecessary loss of greenfields to development.

A particular concern expressed by respondents to the previous consultation was about the availability of affordable homes in the region. We agree that affordability is of key importance, not least to maintain economic growth in the south-east. The draft revised RPG now provides stronger guidance on the provision of affordable homes. We also set out measures to help increase the supply of affordable homes in the Housing Policy Statement made to the House last week and especially the Government's proposals to introduce a new Starter Home scheme to help around 10,000 key workers, particularly teachers, nurses and police officers, buy their own homes.

Moreover, we are significantly increasing resources available for housing. We are doubling funding for the Housing Corporation's Approved Development Programme between 2001-02 and 2003-04 to support new social rented housing. In additional, there will be more than £360 million spending next year by housing authorities in the south-east outside London.

In our Proposed Changes in March, we made clear that we rejected the rigid "predict and provide approach" taken by the Panel chaired by Professor Crow which conducted the public examination into the draft RPG. Nor could we accept the proposals of the regional planning body (SERPLAN) which did not take proper account of the region's future housing needs. We proposed to provide 43,000 additional houses on average each year throughout the region outside London. This compared with the 55,000 dwellings a year recommended by the Panel and the local authorities' (SERPLAN) proposals for 33,000 a year.

We have now decided in the light of consultation to revise the proposed housing provision downwards to an average of 39,000 a year, at least for the next five years. As a result of our policies, backed up by the new tools we have recently announced, we intend that no more land should be used for housing than SERPLAN assumed would be required in planning for 33,000 additional dwellings a year. After 2006, it is likely to be necessary to plan for the higher figure of 43,000 individual dwellings to meet housing needs but that will be a matter for review under our flexible 'plan, monitor and manage' approach. The review will take full account of the proposed studies on the potential growth areas of Milton Keynes, Ashford and the London-Stansted-Cambridge corridor.

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We asked SERPLAN to advise on how the proposed rate of housing provision should be distributed across the region. That advice was not forthcoming. We have therefore proposed in the new draft RPG a county distribution in line with that set out in the existing RPG9: that took account of the need to regenerate the Thames Gateway which is a continuing aim. Comments are invited on this proposed distribution by 12 February 2001.

Copies of the draft revised RPG and accompanying documents are being distributed to those who participated at the Public Examination earlier this year and those who responded to the public consultation on the previous document, "Proposed Changes to Draft RPG9". Copies have also been placed in the Library and made available to Members representing constituencies in the region.


EU Institutions

Mr. Lilley: To ask the Prime Minister which areas of responsibility undertaken by European Union institutions he is seeking to remove from them. [141318]

The Prime Minister: This Government are firmly committed to the reform of the EU's institutions to make them work better and more efficiently. Furthermore, a key concept governing the EU is that of subsidiarity, whereby action should only be taken by the European Union if the objectives cannot be achieved by the member state alone.

Ministerial Visits

Sir Brian Mawhinney: To ask the Prime Minister if it remains his policy that Ministers should notify right hon. and hon. Members in advance if Ministers plan to make an official visit to their constituencies. [141531]

The Prime Minister: [holding answer 11 December 2000]: Yes.

Nice Council

Mr. Mitchell: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list those agreements reached at the European Council Meeting in Nice to permit enhanced co-operation on matters not within the scope of existing EU treaties stating the position taken by the United Kingdom on each such agreement and the reasons for it. [142385]

The Prime Minister: No such agreements were reached. Enhanced co-operation will remain possible only within the limits of the EU's competence.

CCT and Best Value

Mr. Matthew Taylor: To ask the Prime Minister, pursuant to his oral statement of 6 December 2000, Official Report, column 31, what was the basis for his statement concerning the costs of compulsory competitive tendering and Best Value. [142508]

The Prime Minister [holding answer 13 December 2000]: The net benefits of Best Value are considerably greater than those of compulsory competitive tendering (CCT). The estimates of annual savings under CCT were in the region of £500 million to £550 million per annum. Best Value aims to improve efficiency by 2 per cent. per

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authority per annum--a total saving equivalent to £1.5 billion per year. It has only been in place since 1 April this year, but already the first Best Value reviews are revealing the very significant scope for savings which will be available to reinvest in improving services.


Sri Lanka

Mr. McDonnell: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations the Government have made to the Government of Sri Lanka concerning the massacre of 25 Sri Lankan youths on 25 October. [143387]

Mr. Hain: We were shocked to learn of the terrible massacre at the Bindunuwewa Rehabilitation Centre. We have made clear our concerns to the Sri Lankan Government and I raised the incident with the Sri Lankan Prime Minister when I visited Colombo last month. We are pleased that the Government quickly undertook to conduct a full inquiry into the massacre. We have underlined the need for the inquiry to be independent, swift and transparent.


Mr. McDonnell: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent talks (a) he and (b) his officials have had with the Kenyan Government on the economic, environmental and political prospects of Kenya. [143385]

Mr. Hain: During my most recent visit to Kenya on 27 November I had detailed discussions with President Moi and a wide range of his Government officials on the political and economic prospects for Kenya. Our High Commission maintains a constant dialogue with all sides of the political debate in Kenya on a wide range of issues.

Entry Visas

Mr. Rendel: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, pursuant to his reply of 12 December 2000, Official Report, column 122W, how many of his decisions to overturn the refusal of entry visas at posts in India since October 1999 involved applications for workers employed by (a) SHRICO and (b) other companies to work on the new Temple in Wembley. [143068]

Mr. Vaz: None of my decisions to overturn visa refusals at Indian posts have involved workers employed by SHRICO or other companies to work on the new Temple in Wembley.


Ship Repairs

Mr. Duncan Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when HMS Ark Royal will return to operational service; when (a) HMS Bulwark and (b) HMS Albion will enter into service; and when he expects the repairs to HMS Tireless to be completed. [143071]

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Mr. Spellar [holding answer 15 December 2000]: HMS Ark Royal is currently in refit and will be available for operational duties from spring 2002. HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion both enter into service in 2003. We plan to complete the repair of HMS Tireless by the end of March 2001.

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