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Water Tower (Colchester)

Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions on what date the public inquiry into the planning appeal in respect of the Victorian Jumbo water tower at Colchester is to be heard. [6325]

Ms Keeble: The planning appeals and related listed building consent appeals were received on 19 June and are to be the subject of a public local inquiry. The Planning Inspectorate is processing the appeals and arrangements are currently in hand to identify a suitable date for the inquiry.

Departmental Contracts

Ms Walley: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if he will list the top 10 companies to which his Department contracted out their construction and refurbishment work in the last 12 months. [6418]

Dr. Whitehead: The table details the 10 top companies by spend to which DTLR Central contracted out their construction and refurbishment work in the last 12 months.

Top 10 firms

Service providerSpend £
Dalkia Energy and Technical Services3,004,046
Willmott Dixon Ltd.2,102,034
Thrislington Engineering Co Ltd.294,315
Dalkia Technical Service Ltd.265,216
M J Ferguson Ltd150,000
R G Carter Maintenance131,988
Planned Maintenance Engineering Ltd.130,578
Mansell Construction Services Ltd.98,982
Hon. Lady Smith Construction Ltd.75,270
Conrad Construction34,826

River Wye

Mr. Wiggin: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what plans the Government have to provide more bridges over the River Wye in Herefordshire. [6241]

Mr. Jamieson: There are no plans for the Government to provide additional bridges over the River Wye.

Railways (Scotland and the Borders)

Pete Wishart: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (1) what his policy is on (a) electrification of the east coast main line between Edinburgh and Aberdeen and (b) reopening the Borders railway; and if he will make a statement; [6314]

Mr. Jamieson: These are primarily matters for the Strategic Rail Authority whose Strategic Agenda contains a list of possible future rail schemes, including some electrification schemes and the reopening of the Borders railway.

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The Secretary of State has no powers to compel rail operators and Railtrack to proceed with particular schemes.

Local Housing Development

Mr. Baron: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions for what reason the Government do not allow local (a) residents and (b) authorities to decide on the level of local housing development in their areas. [6217]

Ms Keeble: The Government believe that a strategic approach should be taken in determining the level of housing development to ensure that every member of our society has the prospect of a decent home, that economic growth is not impeded and that our countryside is protected from unnecessary and insensitive development. Local authorities, representing the local electorate, play a key role in this process but Government may need to intervene in the wider public interest.

Housing (Green Belt)

Mr. Baron: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what plans the Government have to increase the power of local residents to counter-appeal against housing developments on green belt land. [6216]

Ms Keeble: Local people already have the opportunity to make their views known on development proposals before local planning authorities determine planning applications. There is also the right to challenge the grant of planning permission by a local planning authority by seeking judicial review. We have no current plans to introduce a third party right of appeal against authorities' decisions to grant planning permission.

Planning

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what the performance of the Government Offices for the Regions in 2000–01 was in meeting targets for issuing decisions on called-in planning applications and on recovered appeals following receipt of the inspector's report; and if he will make a statement. [6449]

Ms Keeble: The information is as follows:







The number of call-in and recovery cases—typically, between 120 and 150 of each a year—represents a very small proportion of the number of planning applications and appeals dealt with every year. They also tend to be rather more complicated than the generality of planning decisions. Nevertheless, it is clear that, overall, there continues to be a need to expedite the decision-making process. The Department is considering what further measures are needed to improve performance.

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EU Committee of the Regions

Mrs. Ellman: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what steps he is taking to select English candidates for appointment to the next term of the European Union Committee of the Regions; and if he will make a statement. [6455]

Mr. Raynsford: Members of the Committee of the Regions (CoR) are appointed by the European Council on the basis of proposals made by member states. We have invited comments from the Local Government Association and from regional interests on a proposed procedure for selecting persons to be proposed to the European Council this autumn as English members of the UK delegation to the Committee of the Regions.

The proposals are designed to give regional bodies—Regional Chambers and the Greater London Authority—a formal link with the Committee of the Regions, while maintaining a coherent group representation for England as a whole. These proposals reflect our intention to make an order under the Greater London Authority Act 1999, to amend the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993, so as to extend eligibility for CoR membership to members of the Greater London Authority, including the Mayor.

A copy of a paper setting out the proposed selection procedure has been placed in the Library of the House.

Access to Information

Mr. Patrick Hall: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what responses he has received to ""Access to Information in Local Government", a consultation paper on aspects of the access to information regime for local authorities in England. [6532]

Mr. Raynsford: To date we have received 150 written responses to "Access to Information in Local Government", a consultation paper on aspects of the access to information regime for local authorities in England. We are now considering these responses carefully.

A list of all the responses has today been placed in the Library of the House and full copies of the responses are available from my Department's Library.

Domestic Property (Revaluation)

Ms Atherton: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what plans he has to revalue domestic properties in England for council tax purposes; and if he will make a statement. [6528]

Mr. Raynsford: I propose that there should be a 10-yearly fixed statutory cycle of council tax revaluations. Work on the first revaluation should start in 2005, with

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council tax bills based on updated property values issuing in 2007. Revaluations will not, of course, lead to any overall increase or decrease in the council tax yield.

Regular revaluations will ensure that the council tax burden is distributed fairly on the basis of more up-to-date property values. Respondents to last year's Green Paper on local government finance were overwhelmingly supportive of the proposal to establish a fixed cycle for council tax revaluations. Setting out a timetable for revaluations gives local authorities a clear timetable and framework within which to make their financial plans.

Revenue Grant

Mr. Bailey: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what his plans are for distributing revenue grant to local authorities in 2002–03; and if he will make a statement. [6529]

Mr. Raynsford: The Government's objective is to create a local government finance system that distributes grant fairly and effectively and gives councils greater financial autonomy to help them better meet the needs of their local communities.

In our Green Paper on local government finance, published last September, we consulted on whether to extend the moratorium on changes to the formula used to distribute revenue grant to local authorities by a further year, to include 2002–03. After considering the consultation responses, we have concluded that while reforming the revenue grant distribution system is an important priority, we must ensure that there is adequate time for preparation and consultation.

We know that there remain disparities in the education funding formula which are not justified by the education needs of children. We have been working with local government and other education interests on the best way to resolve these issues but there is not yet agreement on the way forward.

We have therefore decided to keep the existing grant formula stable for 2002–03. Over the coming year, we will work up proposals in partnership with local government for a reformed grant formula which we will introduce in 2003–04. The Government will work to the same timetable with local government and the wider education community on revising the education funding formula to focus on children's needs. I then expect to see the moratorium on formula changes re-introduced for 2004–05 and 2005–06.

Today's announcement will give local authorities some welcome financial stability and will allow them to plan ahead. Meanwhile we will enhance that financial stability and predictability by developing the floors and ceilings protection which we introduced for some authorities in 2001–02 so that all authorities get a reasonable increase in grant and no authority gets an unduly large increase. We intend to extend floors and ceilings to cover police and fire authorities for 2002–03; and to discuss how best to enhance grant stability in 2002–03 for shire district councils, who do not have education and social service responsibilities.

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