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ENVIRONMENT, TRANSPORT AND THE REGIONS

BNFL, Ulnes Walton

Mr. Llew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what quantities and types of radioactive waste have been disposed of at the BNFL site at Ulnes Walton in Lancashire; and what radioactive limit is set for the site by the Environment Agency. [147743]

Mr. Meacher: Disposal of BNFL radioactive waste to the Ulnes Walton landfill site, which is operated by Lancashire Waste Services Ltd. at Leyland, Lancashire, is regulated by the Environment Agency under the Radioactive Substances Act 1993.

An authorisation was issued for the use of empty clay pits to dispose of radioactive waste. Disposals started in 1964 and continued until 1983. Within the lifetime of the authorisation a total of around 42,600 tonnes of bulk waste material containing around 30,817 kg of uranium was disposed of. Of the total material disposed of, around 95 per cent. was disposed of between 1964-73.

Clay lined pits were chosen to provide a natural barrier to movement of contaminants from the site. All waste disposals have been covered by a clay cap at least 1 metre thick which will be overlaid with 1 metre of soil as part of the overall site restoration by the operators.

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The types of waste authorised for disposal were process residues, building rubble, incinerator ash, contaminated graphite, general factory-type waste and plant contaminated with natural uranium with a limit of not more than 0.2 per cent. or 0.5 per cent. of natural uranium (or equivalent). The activity limits were set for the different types of waste. The wastes were also limited by weight if the material was not substantially insoluble in water.

No disposals of radioactive waste have been made by BNFL to Ulnes Walton landfill site since 1983. An environmental monitoring programme has been conducted around the site by BNFL since 1972 and continues to date. The Environment Agency also undertakes independent check monitoring of the environment around the landfill. The results of these programmes indicate that the presence of radioactivity around the landfill is within the range found to occur naturally in the environment as a whole.

Genetically Modified Crops (Cornwall)

Mr. Tyler: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what trials of genetically modified crops have been authorised for sites in Cornwall; on whose advice they were permitted and when; what results were obtained; and what conclusions his Department has reached on those results. [151793]

Mr. Meacher [holding answer 5 March 2001]: The public register of releases, held by my Department, shows that there have been no releases of genetically modified (GM) crops in Cornwall for the purposes of research since the register was established in 1993.

Before this, releases of GM crops were controlled by the Genetic Manipulation Regulations 1989. Persons wishing to release any genetically modified organism (GMO) were required to notify their intent to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Officials from HSE and the then Department of Environment (DoE) scrutinised these notifications for compliance with the regulations and to ensure that the release would not pose a risk to the environment. Until June 1990 they were advised by the Planned Release Sub-committee of the Health and Safety Commission's Advisory Committee on Genetic Modification and the DOE's Interim Advisory Committee on Introductions. In June 1990 these two committees were replaced by the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment.

Pre-February 1993 records show that in 1990 researchers from the Imperial College School of Applied Biology were authorised to study the invasiveness and persistence of GM crops in 12 natural habitats. There were four sites in Cornwall at Great Grogley Dawns, Davidstone Woods, Penkestle Downs and Great Wood Tregays. Each was sown with four different GM crops (oilseed rape, maize, potato and sugar beet) and equivalent conventional crops. The outcome of this work was reported in the science journal Nature in 1993 (Ecology of transgenic oilseed rape in natural habitats, 363, 620-623). It showed that the GM seeds tested did not perform better or persist for longer than conventional varieties over a three-year period.

More recently, the researchers reported that, after ten years of monitoring the sites, in no case were the GM plants found to be more invasive or more persistent

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than their conventional counterparts (Nature, 2001, "Transgenic crops in natural habitats", 409, 682-683). None of the crops GM or conventional varieties increased in number at any of the sites. All populations (both GM and non-GM) of maize, sugar beet and oilseed rape were extinct at all sites within four years of sowing. Potatoes survived at one site for 10 years but these were all conventional (non-GM).

The regulators and ACRE have used the results of these studies to inform the consideration of applications to release GM plants containing the same or similar GM traits. The studies give information about the risks to the environment that they would become weeds of agriculture or invasive of natural habitats or that the introduced genes would be transferred by pollen to wild relatives whose hybrid offspring would then become more weedy or invasive.

Mr. Tyler: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what residue seeds are in the natural seed bed in the sites in Cornwall selected in 1989 for genetically modified crop trials; and if he will make a statement. [151794]

Mr. Meacher [holding answer 5 March 2001]: Researchers from Imperial College London carried out trials of genetically modified (GM) and conventional crop plants in 1990 at four sites in Cornwall that had been selected in 1989. The researchers have been monitoring the sites since 1990 and have recently reported the fate of the seeds and resultant plants in the journal Nature (Nature, 2001, Transgenic crops in natural habitats, 409, 682-683). They report that the populations of both GM and non-GM plants declined after the first year. For maize all lines were extinct at the start of the second year. All beet were extinct by the end of the third year and all oil seed rape were extinct within four years. No trace of GM plants was found when the sites were checked after 10 years in 2000.

Regional Assemblies

Mr. Ben Chapman: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make a statement on his policy on regional assemblies in England. [152999]

Ms Beverley Hughes: We remain committed to move to directly elected regional government, where there is support as demonstrated in referendums. In the meantime, governance in the regions is evolving through the work of the chambers, regional development agencies, Government Offices and others.

Council Tax (Lancashire)

Mr. Evans: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will list the average band D council tax levels in Lancashire in (a) 1997, (b) 1998, (c) 1999, (d) 2000 and (e) 2001. [153165]

Ms Beverley Hughes: The average band D council tax levels for Lancashire for 1997-98, 1998-99, 1999-2000 and 2000-01 are shown in the table. Billing authorities are required to set their council taxes for 2001-02 by 11 March and notify the Department within seven days. We plan to publish the information shortly.

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Average Band D council tax bill for billing authorities in Lancashire Average Band D own council tax for Lancashire county council
Year(£)(22)Increase (%)(£)Increase (%)
1997-987596.15885.4
1998-9984811.667314.5
1999-20009147.97318.5
2000-019635.37685.2

(22) Average council tax bill for a Band D dwelling (occupied by two adults) in shire districts within the area of Lancashire county council.


Rural Affairs

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (1) how many staff, broken down by grade, have been assigned to the Rural Advocate; [153249]

Mr. Robert Ainsworth: The Countryside Agency has informed me that the total number of agency staff working in the Rural Proofing Unit is 10. This is made up of 2 Grade 7s (1 part time), 3 staff at S level, 3 at H level, 1 at E level and 1 at A level.

However, a wide range of other staff in the Countryside Agency will be supporting the Central Unit in its rural proofing work.

Rural Amenities

Mr. Breed: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what percentage of rural parishes have a GP surgery. [153131]

Mr. Robert Ainsworth: The most recent comprehensive survey of rural services was undertaken by the Rural Development Commission in 1997. It showed that 17 per cent. of rural parishes had a GP practice within the parish. The Countryside Agency is undertaking a further survey of the level of service provision in rural areas. It will look at more sophisticated ways of measuring access to key services in rural areas. I understand that the survey will be published in the summer of this year.

Mr. Breed: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what percentage of rural parishes have (a) no bank and (b) no shop. [153133]

Mr. Robert Ainsworth: The most recent comprehensive survey of rural services was undertaken by the Rural Development Commission in 1997. It showed that 91 per cent. of rural parishes were without a bank/building society and 42 per cent. of rural parishes were without a permanent shop (of any kind).

The Countryside Agency is undertaking a further survey of the level of service provision in rural areas. It will look at more sophisticated ways of measuring access to key services in rural areas. I understand that the survey will be published in the summer of this year.


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