Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary Notes to Questions by The Rt Hon Michael Meacher MP, Minister for the Environment


  At my appearance on 13 December before the Environment Transport and Regional Affairs Committee in connection with its evidence session on the Rural White Paper, I promised to write to you on four points. These were:

Road noise (reply to Mr Donohoe, question 29)

  The conditions under which highway authorities have to carry out insulation work or make grants are set out in The Noise Insulation Regulations 1975. They apply to residential buildings not more than 300 metres (about a fifth of a mile) from a new road or additional carriageway, rather than the half mile I suggested in my immediate evidence. The criteria are that the predicted traffic noise level within 15 years of opening must rise to an average level of at least 68 dB(A) for specified periods in the day and must be at least 1 dB(A) higher than the existing noise level. In practice this means most people living within 300 metres of a new or altered road get noise insulation or a grant.

Decisions about proposed development on best and most versatile land (reply to Dr Ladyman, questions 48 and 49)

  The Rural White Paper (9.3.4ff) says that to achieve a more holistic approach, decisions about proposed development affecting the best and most versatile agricultural land will be made locally through the planning process. To inform this process, it contains an undertaking to provide good practice guidance. This will help local decision makers evaluate in a more integrated way factors such as landscape quality, local character, biodiversity and soil quality. My Department will shortly be commissioning research to inform the preparation of such good practice guidance. We will take an objective look at existing evaluation techniques—and there are several such as the "Countryside Character" approach—and take account of other work such as the draft soil strategy which will soon be published for consultation. We do not underestimate the complexity of the task, but our aim is to produce best practice guidance that is user-friendly and will help in making local decisions about potential development affecting higher quality agricultural land.

  The guidance in Planning Policy Guidance Note (PPG7) on the Countryside will be revised in due course to put flesh on the changes signalled in the White Paper.

  As a result of earlier research, my Department has already published (1998) good practice entitled Environmental Geology in Land Use Planning. Sections from this will be relevant to the good practice guidance to be prepared.

Charity shops (reply to Anne McIntosh, questions 57 and 58)

  PPG6: Town Centres and Retail Developments deals with planning for retail development, including managing change in the high street. The planning system does not distinguish between different types of high street shops or who runs them. Therefore a charity shop in planning terms is the same as any other high street shop—it sells goods over the counter.

  Under the Local Government Finance Act 1988, properties wholly or mainly used for charitable purposes are entitled to 80 per cent mandatory rate relief. The local authority has the discretion to increase this relief to 100 per cent. Charity shops are only entitled to this relief if they are used wholly or mainly for the sale of goods donated to a charity and the proceeds of the sale are applied for the purposes of a charity. However the Green Paper Modernising Local Government Finance, published on 19 September 2000, sought views on whether the Department's guidance to local authorities on the application of rate relief to properties wholly or mainly used for charitable purposes should be reviewed. The Green Paper also proposed a rate relief scheme for all small businesses. This would reduce the rates bill for all small businesses occupying properties with rateable values below £8,000, on a sliding scale. Those with rateable values below £3,000 would receive 50 per cent relief, reducing as rateable value increases, so that at £6,000 rateable value there would be 20 per cent relief, tapering to 0 per cent above £8,000 rateable value. We are currently considering responses to the Green Paper and expect to consult on revised guidance on rate relief during 2001.

The Countryside Agency's Village Shops Development Scheme (reply to Louise Ellman, question 82)

  At 31 March, 572 grants with a total value of £1,807,308 had been awarded under the Village Shops Development Scheme. A recent evaluation of the scheme (which began in 1996/97) has shown that:

    —  75 per cent of shopkeepers experienced increased turnover and profitability of their businesses—the average increase in turnover, where stated, was 32 per cent;

    —  18 per cent of grants resulted in an increased range of goods and services available to the local community;

    —  10 per cent of grants prevented closure of shops, particularly where the grants were for the purchase of equipment to meet changes in legislation.

  The scheme has also helped a number of community shops to set up, often where a commercial village shop had closed or was under threat of closure, helping to retain an essential community service that otherwise would have been lost. Other indirect community gain from the grant aid to village shops has been the introduction of an increased range of goods and services and longer opening hours. Access to "add-on" services includes banking, cash machines, dry cleaning, prescription collection, gas and electricity key charging and mobile shops.

Michael Meacher

17 January 2001

previous page contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 10 May 2001