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Mr. Bruce George: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what funding allocation has been made to Walsall for the purpose of regeneration since 1997; if he will list the schemes and organisations in receipt of funding and the amounts involved; and what component of these awards is made with security, community safety and crime reduction as an objective. 
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My right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and the Regions announced Round 2 New Deal for Community Funding of £263.5 million for five West Midlands neighbourhoods on 30 April, £52 million has been offered to the New Horizons Partnership in Walsall which covers the Blakenall, Bloxwich East and Leamore neighbourhood. Over 16 per cent. of this funding, £8.5 million over 10 years, will be targeted on community safety and crime reduction measures.
Walsall has also been awarded £16 million Neighbourhood Renewal Funding (NRF) over three years. The Local Strategic Partnership in Walsall will determine the use of NRF moneys to help with the most pressing needs in the area's deprived neighbourhoods.
A seven year scheme targeting the four most deprived areas of the borough, led by the local authority. The other key partners are the TEC, Chamber of Commerce, voluntary sector, Police and Probation Service. Over 9,000 local people will benefit from community safety initiatives.
This seven year scheme aims to improve standards in education, skills and learning. Initiatives include drugs prevention through peer pressure, community safety strategy, health, housing development links to job opportunities.
A total of £700,000 has been spent on five projects in Walsall, including residential redevelopment of the former Moxley Hospital Site; construction of community facilities at the Camden Centre, Small street and Willenhall.
Mr. Gibb: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions for what reason (a) local authorities and (b) the Highways Agency are exempt from section 74 of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991. 
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made allowing charges to be levied on utility companies whose works exceed an agreed deadline. However, the Act did not extend this power to works carried out by highway authorities.
This Government are determined to reduce the disruption which all works, whether carried out by utility or highway authority, cause to road users. The powers under section 74 have been activated with effect from 1 April this year. At the same time a revised code of practice for the co-ordination of works and best practice guidelines were published, which apply not only to works on behalf of utilities but also to works for local highway authorities and the Highways Agency. We are also considering whether further measures may be required.
Mr. Gibb: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what his estimate is of the proportion of roadworks carried out by (a) utilities, (b) local authorities and (c) the Highways Agency. 
Mr. Hill: Works carried out to the highway include "road" works--carried out by or on behalf of highway authorities--and "street" works--involving statutory utilities. Detailed figures are not available on the proportion of overall works carried out by utilities, local authorities and the Highways Agency. However, the Government have recently commissioned Halcrow UK to undertake a study of the extent of utility street works across England. As part of that work, they will also be looking at works carried out by highway authorities. We expect to make the conclusions of Halcrow's research available to the House.
Mr. Gibb: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what his assessment is of the impact on prices paid by consumers for utility services arising from the lane rental provisions of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991. 
Mr. Hill: The Government took powers in the Transport Act 2000 to make regulations permitting highway authorities to levy daily charges on utilities from the outset of works (so-called "lane rental"). These powers are being kept in reserve at this stage as regards national implementation. However, we have agreed that the London borough of Camden and Middlesbrough borough council may operate pilot schemes for lane rental in their area, starting later this year.
The impact of any national lane rental scheme on utility companies and their customers and the extent to which road users will benefit from reduced disruption will obviously depend upon detailed arrangements, for instance the level at which rental charges were set and the type of works which would attract charges. Should we decide to launch the powers nationally, we will want to look very closely at the effects of the pilot schemes in devising the details of the scheme and in carrying out a regulatory impact assessment.
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Mr. Hill [holding answer 3 May 2001]: The size of buses is currently regulated by the Road Vehicle (Construction and Use) Regulations which in turn incorporate dimensions that have to be accepted by all European Union countries through Directive 96/53/EC. Amendments to this Directive to allow longer buses are currently under discussion. In my response of 10 April to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood), Official Report, columns 497-99W, I explained that the Council had reached a general political agreement on allowing the use of buses up to 15 metres long. But owing to UK concerns over the manoeuvrability of these vehicles the text for a derogation for us would be remitted to COREPER for further consideration. It is unlikely that a final agreement will be reached before the end of this year.
Mr. Gareth R. Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions how many construction industry inspector posts are vacant in each region of the United Kingdom. 
|Division||Number of vacancies|
|Yorkshire and North East||0|
|Wales and West||0|
|London and South East||8|
Mr. Gareth R. Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what action the Government are taking to recruit suitable people to fill vacancies for construction industry inspectors in London and the South East. 
Mr. Meacher: The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) usually fills construction industry inspector posts internally from its pool of experienced general inspectors of health and safety. HSE is currently running a major campaign to recruit trainee inspectors nationally, the majority to fill the vacancies in the Field Operations Directorate, and this includes those in its London and the South East Division. In order to help address the resource shortfall more quickly, HSE is also seeking to deploy inspectors from other divisions into London for limited periods and is exploring the contribution that could be made by additional specialist inspectors supporting operational construction inspection.
Mr. Mackinlay: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will list those shire counties which have had no reported cases of foot and mouth disease and which have opened (a) less
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than 25 per cent. of the total length of their rights of way and (b) 50 per cent. or more of the total length of their rights of way; and if he will make a statement. 
Ms Beverley Hughes: The county councils which have had no reported cases of foot and mouth disease and which have opened less than 25 per cent. of the total length of their rights of way are: Lincolnshire (0 per cent.), Buckinghamshire (5 per cent.), Hampshire (5 per cent.), West Sussex (10 per cent.), Bedfordshire (12 per cent.), East Sussex (12 per cent.), Nottinghamshire (15 per cent.), and Dorset (22 per cent.).
The county councils which have had no reported cases of foot and mouth disease and which have opened 50 per cent. or more of the total length of their rights of way are: Norfolk (59 per cent.), Surrey (70 per cent.), Suffolk (75 per cent.), and Cambridgeshire (85 per cent.).
These figures show that many local authorities continue to keep rights of way closed unnecessarily. The Government's veterinary and scientific advisers have confirmed that outside Infected Areas there is no justification for keeping so many paths closed. Councils that ignore this advice are failing in their duty to their residents, their visitors, and their local businesses to open rights of way wherever it is safe to do so.
Several authorities lag so far behind public opinion and professional advice that they continue to keep closed even paths across woodland and arable land. This cannot be justified. Local authorities quite rightly wish to take account of the views of farmers and land managers, but they need to balance these with the views of the many other businesses in their communities whose livelihood is threatened, as well as the interests of their residents and visitors. Unnecessary closures mean unnecessary inconvenience, unnecessary economic damage, and in some cases unnecessary danger where people are forced on to busy roads because paths are closed.
In authorities which have taken a more balanced judgment of needs, such as Surrey, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, well over half the path networks have been reopened. There is no reason why the worst performing authorities should not achieve a similar or better performance. I urge all councils, and especially those without infected areas, to make significant progress towards reopening their rights of way wherever it is safe to do so.
Mr. Todd: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what assessment he has made of the cost to councils of awarding hardship relief to assist businesses affected by the outbreak of foot and mouth; and if he will provide additional assistance to smaller district councils to help meet this cost. 
Mr. Meacher: To date no formal assessment of the costs borne by local authorities in implementing the hardship rate relief scheme has been undertaken. However, we have extended the central Government contribution to the cost of the relief from 75 per cent. to 95 per cent. in cases where the business is located in one of the 151 eligible rural districts and has a rateable value of £12,000 or less.
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looking into that, though it is important that local authorities do retain ownership of the scheme if distribution of relief is to be undertaken rigorously.
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