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Mr. Raynsford: Our policy on directly-elected mayors is set out in the 2001 Local Government White PaperStrong Local Leadership, Quality Public Services. Where local people think that a directly-elected mayor is right for their area, we think they should have the opportunity to vote for one. Councils have conducted extensive consultations with local people, who can also require a mayoral referendum by organising a petition signed by 5 per cent. of local electors or more.
The Secretary of State has the power in certain circumstances to direct a council to hold a referendum, including where it appears that the council has failed to have due regard to the outcome of local consultations. I told the House on 7 March 2002, Official Report, column 553W, that the Secretary of State did not intend to make any such directions until after we had completed a review of the regulations governing mayoral referendums, following the report "Reinvigorating Democracy? Mayoral Referendums in 2001" which the Electoral Commission published on 1 February 2002.
Since that time we have been putting in place proposals for a comprehensive performance management regime for councils, including independent assessment of their corporate performance. We are giving greater freedoms and flexibilities to all councils, with greater freedoms for high performing authorities.
Within this framework, we believe it will be right for each council to make and justify to local people its own judgments on the outcome of any consultation about proposals for a new constitution. Accordingly, in cases where, in our view, having regard to the outcome of the consultation, the judgment a council has reached does not appear to be justified, our approach will be not to intervene to direct a referendum.
We had informed Birmingham, Bradford and Thurrock councils that the Secretary of State was minded to require them to hold a referendum, on the grounds that the councils failed to have due regard to the outcome of local
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consultations. These councils judged that the results of their consultation on new executive arrangements did not warrant giving local people the opportunity of a referendum. We took, and continue to take, the view that the consultation results would have justified a referendum.
However, on the basis of the approach I am announcing today, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister does not propose to use his powers in these cases. We believe it is right that we make this clear to the councils today in order to remove uncertainty for them.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his Department's role in preparing for floods; and how it is co-ordinated with DEFRA's responsibility for flood management. 
Mr. McNulty: The Department's principal role in preparing for floods is through the co-ordination activities of the Severe Weather Sub-Group of the Central Local Partnership, which is chaired by Ministers from this Department. There is also regular contact between both Ministers and officials from this Department and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
In addition, the former Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions published in February 2002 guidance to owners of homes and small businesses and people undertaking building work as well as planning authorities on "Preparing for floods". This complements the advice given on the consideration of flooding in the planning system (Planning Policy Guidance Note 25 "Development and flood risk"), published by the then DTLR in July 2001 and on measures of flood protection ("Damage limitation") and recovery from flooding ("After a flood") published by the Environment Agency in September 2001.
Mr. Llwyd: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what the (a) date, (b) location and (c) purpose was of visits by Ministers in his Department to Wales since 1997; and when he next intends to visit Wales. 
Since 1999 the Government have published an annual list of all visits undertaken by Cabinet Ministers costing £500 or more during each financial year. This Government have also published on an annual basis the cost of all Ministers' visits overseas. Information in respect of UK travel is not held centrally and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.
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Dr. Kumar: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how many computers were replaced in his Department in each of the past three years; how the replaced units were disposed of and by which companies; and at what cost. 
Mr. McNulty: The Government published a consultation paper "Reforming Planning Obligations: delivering a fundamental change" in December 2001. This was a strategic level consultation and proposed the introduction of a tariff-based approach to planning obligations. We received over 500 responses, the majority of which welcomed our proposals. Ministers are considering policy options and there will be a policy statement in due course.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what proposals he has to amend regional planning guidance in the north-west to allow local authorities to encourage the allocation of land zoned for industrial use to be used for housing. 
Mr. McNulty: The Secretary of State's Proposed Changes to draft Regional Planning Guidance for the north-west were published on 20 May 2002. Policy UR5. This calls on local authorities to review existing commitments in development plans so that a realistic balance can be found between catering for strategic investments, providing for local indigenous economic growth and in meeting the broader social requirements of urban renaissance. Land that is no longer needed for business purposes could be put to alternate uses such as housing, with possibly a mix of uses considered.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what the Government's new target is for the number of houses to be built in the north-west by 2021; and by how much this has changed from previous targets. 
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Mr. McNulty: The Secretary of State published proposed changes to draft Regional Planning Guidance for the north-west on 20 May 2002. These changes reduced the annual rate of housing provision form that in draft RPG by 15 per cent. The annualised average rate of housing provision for the region is 12,790 dwellings. The annualised figures apply to the period up to 2006 reflecting the 'plan, monitor and manage' approach set out in PPG3 which moves away from the previous 'predict and provide' approach. The proposed changes give weight to avoiding any premature release of greenfield land which would undermine attempts to promote the use of recycled land and the redevelopment of existing unfit and unpopular housing. Tackling low demand and abandonment lies at the heart of the revised strategy. The Secretary of State, in the consultation, on the proposed changes has requested views on whether the changes are sufficient to prevent the unnecessary release of greenfield land or whether there should be further changes to reflect the recommendations made by the Transport, Local Government and Regions Committee in its report on empty homes that no new planning permissions should be granted for greenfield sites.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how the cost of the planned reduction of new houses in the north-west region will be distributed among local authorities in the north-west; and if brownfield sites will be treated more favourably than greenfield sites. 
Mr. McNulty: The Secretary of State's Proposed Changes to Draft Regional Planning Guidance for the north-west were published on 20 May 2002. The distribution of housing provision in the region is dealt with in Policy UR7. The broad split, set out as annual average rates of provision net of clearance, is as follows:
Rest of Greater Manchester, Merseyside plus the Unitary Authorities of Halton and Warrington: 4,310
Cheshire (exc. Halton and Warrington), Cumbria and Lancashire: 5,490.
The Government are committed to maximising the re-use of previously developed land and the conversion of existing buildings to promote regeneration and minimise the amount of greenfield land being taken for development. Policy UR4 of the proposed draft Regional Planning Guidance regional brownfield target of at least 70 per cent. has been set. This varies from 90 per cent. in Liverpool/Manchester/Salford to 50 per cent. in Cumbria. Further investment will be needed to meet these challenging targets and the Northwest Development Agency's strategies will need to be integrated with those of local planning and housing authorities to regenerate urban areas with mixed and balanced communities.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister for what reason his Department cut the number of houses to be built in the north-west region to 12,790; what effect he estimates their decision will have on the area; what account was taken of the north-west regional development agency's aim of encouraging more employment in the north-west in making this change; and if he will review his decision after the first year of operation. 
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Mr. McNulty: The Secretary of State's Proposed Changes to draft Regional Planning Guidance for the north-west were published on 20 May 2002. A key part of the strategy is to achieve the renaissance of urban areas by encouraging balanced economic growth and regeneration in a sustainable way. The proposed reduction in the annual rate of housing provision, coupled with an increase in the proportion of housing provided on previously used land from 65 per cent. to 70 per cent. are aimed at delivering this, while avoiding the premature release of greenfield land and promoting the use of recycled land, including the redevelopment of existing areas of unfit and unpopular housing; while supporting the Northwest Development Agency's aim of encouraging more employment in the NW region.
The plan monitor, manage approach will enable the annual rates of housing provision to be kept under continuous review, with an expectation that regional planning guidance will be reviewed and rolled forward at least every five years or more frequently if monitoring reveals clear signs of either under or over provision.
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