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West Coast Main Line

20. Mr. Nicholas Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if he will make a statement on the level of investment projected for the west coast main line as included in the Strategic Rail Authority's 10-year plan. [36663]

Mr. Jamieson: The precise outputs of the west coast upgrade are currently under review by the Strategic Rail authority and the key stakeholders. Until the outputs are agreed the precise cost of the project will not be known. The plan makes it clear that the upgrade is a priority project.

Chris Grayling: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what agreement has been reached on the allocation of capacity on the west coast main line. [39012]

Mr. Jamieson: The Strategic Rail Authority is in the course of a review, with Railtrack and the rail operators, of future capacity utilisation on the west coast main line. As and when specific proposals for capacity allocation arise, these will be subject to the approval of the Rail Regulator.

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Housing Associations

21. Margaret Moran: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what measures he intends to take to monitor and cap salaries of registered social landlord chief executives. [36664]

Ms Keeble: Registered social landlords—better known as housing associations—are independent organisations. It is for them to decide the salaries of their senior staff, including chief executives. However, the Housing Corporation requires all housing associations to demonstrate good governance and to act in a way that maintains the sector's good reputation.

Regional Assemblies

22. Mr. Luff: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if, in referendums to establish a regional assembly, he will make it his policy to require a majority of the votes cast in each county, metropolitan or unitary council area constituting the region to be cast in favour of establishing such an assembly before approving its establishment. [36665]

Dr. Whitehead: The forthcoming Regional Governance White Paper will set out our proposals for the referendums that must be held before a region can have an elected assembly.

26. Mr. Peter Atkinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions whether regional assemblies will levy a precept on council tax. [36670]

Dr. Whitehead: The forthcoming Regional Governance White Paper will set out our proposals for the funding of elected regional assemblies.

Community Transport Services

23. Judy Mallaber: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions when he will introduce regulations to extend fuel duty rebate to community transport services. [36666]

Ms Keeble: We expect to introduce regulations shortly which will commence from 1 May this year that will provide a new entitlement to fuel duty rebate for a wide range of community transport services.

Transport (North-West)

24. Mr. Jack: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what research his Department has undertaken to ascertain the transport needs of the north-west for the decade from 2001. [36667]

Mr. Spellar: The north-west Regional Assembly in consultation with the Government Office and other regional stakeholders have developed the draft Regional Transport Strategy which is part of the Regional Planning Guidance (RPG). The draft RPG was published by the north-west Regional Assembly in August 2001 and I am currently considering the report of the panel. I hope to make my announcement shortly and there will then be a twelve-week consultation period before the final RPG is published by the Secretary of State later this year.

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Housing

27. Mr. Pike: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if he will make a statement on the amount of empty private sector housing in particular local authorities. [36671]

Ms Keeble: The amount of empty private sector housing in some areas is a cause for concern. We are tackling this problem in high demand areas by encouraging local authorities to adopt empty property reduction strategies. In low demand areas—including parts of east Lancashire—we are considering proposals for housing market renewal schemes. We cannot give commitments about resources ahead of the conclusions of the current spending review.

Councillors (Allowances)

28. Mr. Hawkins: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what proposals he has to review allowances for councillors; and if he will make a statement. [36672]

Dr. Whitehead: Basic and special responsibility allowances are discretionary allowances, with levels set by individual local authorities, having regard to the recommendations of their independent remuneration panels. Allowance levels will be considered as part of our forthcoming research into the operation of new council constitutions.

We are currently considering changes to the regime of travel and subsistence allowances for councillors. We propose that these allowances should also be discretionary and set locally. We consulted on these proposals in October of last year.

Local Government (Voting Methods)

29. Siobhain McDonagh: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what plans he has to introduce new methods of voting in local government. [36673]

Dr. Whitehead: As announced to the House on 5 and 13 February, we have given approval to 31 local authorities to run electoral modernisation of the pilot authorities to run electoral modernisation pilot schemes in the May 2002 local and mayoral elections. In addition to using traditional voting methods and all-postal voting, over half of the pilot authorities will explore innovative ways in which people can vote electronically. This programme will test new and easier arrangements while at the same time maintaining the integrity and security of the ballot. It will mark an important step towards making the electoral system easier to use and more relevant to today's society.

Council Houses

30. Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what steps he is taking to increase the number of council houses being built (a) for and (b) by local authorities. [36674]

Ms Keeble: Support for new affordable housing is mainly available to Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) via the Housing Corporation's Approved Development Programme. We are increasing this programme to over

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£1.2 billion by 2003–04, almost double the amount in 2000–01. Local authorities can also fund provision through their housing capital programme although we expect this to be done through RSLs owing to their greater ability to draw on private sources of funding. £2.6 billion has been provided to support housing investment by authorities in 2001–02, which is three times the amount made available in 1997–98.

Deprivation

31. Vernon Coaker: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what recent assessment he has made of Government policies to tackle small areas of deprivation. [36675]

Ms Keeble: Our National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal was built on an unprecedented exercise in joint working within and outside Government. 18 Policy Action Teams considered the whole range of policy problems affecting our most deprived neighbourhoods. Since the launch of the National Strategy in 2001 a research and evaluation strategy has been developed, which will look at all our neighbourhood renewal programmes and initiatives to identify what works, and why.

Local Government White Paper

32. Mr. Rammell: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if he will make a statement on the proposal for reform of capital financing for local government contained in the local government White Paper. [36676]

Dr. Whitehead: We propose to allow local authorities to borrow without our consent, provided that the debt is affordable. Affordability will be assessed in accordance with a code being drawn up by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy. We shall introduce legislation as soon as Parliamentary time allows.

Regional Planning

33. Mr. Wiggin: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what plans his Department has to increase the role of regional planning. [36677]

Ms Keeble: The Green Paper "Planning: delivering a fundamental change" sets out proposals for increasing the effectiveness of regional planning. The new statutory Regional Spatial Strategy will provide the longer term planning framework required for the preparation of the proposed Local Development Frameworks, Local Transport Plans, and other relevant strategies and programmes.


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