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Home Valuations

Mr. Letwin: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what assessment he has made of the impact upon home purchasers of the practice of district valuers reviewing the effect of improvements on value only after a sale takes place. [64375]

Mr. Raynsford: Dwellings are only revalued following improvements when the property is subsequently sold. This is so that people are not deterred from improving their home because their council tax might increase. The reassessment may lead to a property being moved to a higher council tax band. However, this is not always the case. No assessment has been made of the impact upon home purchaser.

Social Housing Targets

Mr. Hopkins: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what plans he has made to meet the 2010 social housing targets if tenants vote against large scale voluntary stock transfers; and if he will make a statement. [64391]

Mr. McNulty: The Government have substantially increased the resources provided to local authorities for housing investment to support delivery of the commitment on decent social housing. Where an authority is unable to fund the works necessary to bring its housing up to a decent standard by 2010 from its own resources and those provided through the Major Repairs Allowance and the Housing Investment Programme, there are three options for additional funding:


The planned ending of direct control of local authority borrowing will also allow increased investment where an authority can meet the additional borrowing costs.

It is for local authorities to decide with their tenants which investment option to pursue and we have extended the role of the Community Housing Task Force to help them with this. If stock transfer is rejected by tenants, then clearly the authority needs to consider which of the other options will enable it to deliver.

Right to Buy

Chris Grayling: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether housing associations retain funds raised as a result of the exercising of the right to buy. [65672]

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Mr. McNulty: The right to buy can be exercised only by those few housing association tenants who are secure tenants of non-charitable housing associations. Any sale proceeds that remain after the deduction of expenses, outstanding loan debt and the recovery of any grant for the original provision of the property, may be retained and spent on purposes permitted by legislation for an association registered with the Housing Corporation.

Former local authority tenants of housing stock that has been transferred to registered social landlords retain a Preserved Right to Buy. The transfer arrangements will normally contain a sharing agreement aimed at giving the local authority a share of sales receipts.

Tenants of registered social landlord properties built or acquired with public funds since 1 April 1997 have a right to acquire their rented home under the Housing Act 1996. The Housing Corporation provides the registered social landlord with a grant to cover the discount offered to the tenant for right to acquire sales and the landlord retains all proceeds of such disposals. The legislation requires the proceeds to be placed in a separate fund—the Disposal Proceeds Fund—and the Housing Corporation directs the registered social landlord to use the proceeds to provide replacement housing for rent.

Equity Release Schemes

Mr. Martlew: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what plans he has to promote equity release schemes to assist with disrepair in the owner-occupied housing sector. [65720]

Mr. McNulty: The Regulatory Reform (Housing Assistance) (England and Wales) Order 2002 was approved by Parliament on 28 May and will come into force very shortly. It will allow local authorities to develop equity release schemes for housing renewal. This Order contains a new power enabling local authorities to provide assistance to owner-occupiers for the repair, improvement or adaptation of their properties. Such assistance can be provided in a variety of ways including grants, loans or equity release schemes. It replaces the powers contained in the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 which allowed local authorities to make renovation grants available to homeowners.

Empty Homes

Mr. Pike: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister when he will announce the money being allocated to Burnley to tackle the problem of empty homes as part of the East Lancashire Housing Renewal pathfinder project. [65551]

Mr. Raynsford: We announced on 16 May that we were making available £25 million from the Capital Modernisation Fund to assist low demand pathfinder projects in vital preparatory work, in equal shares of £2.66 million (£1 million will be retained centrally for collective monitoring and evaluation). That funding will, importantly, not be distributed to individual local authorities but to the pathfinder project as a whole. We are considering the case for further investment to tackle low demand, over and above that which local authorities and others already devote to tackling the problem, in the spending review.

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Fire Brigades Union

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister when he last met representatives from the Fire Brigades Union; what was discussed; and if he will make a statement. [65994]

Mr. Raynsford: Responsibility for the Fire Service transferred to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister on 29 May 2002. The Deputy Prime Minister has not met with representatives of the Fire Brigades Union.

Refurbishment

Ms Walley: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will list the refurbishment projects that (a) are in progress and (b) will start within the next six months; and what action is being taken to ensure that these will procure certified timber. [59764]

Mr. Alexander: I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) set out the Government's policy on timber procurement in his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Colin Burgon) on 28 July 2000, Official Report, column 948W.

The Ripley Building and Kirkland House are currently being refurbished by the Cabinet Office. The Cabinet Office is working closely with Balfour Beatty, the main contractor, to seek to ensure that all timber for this project, that has not yet been ordered, is procured in accordance with that policy. A full investigation into timber procurement matters on this project has been undertaken by the Cabinet Office. A report of the findings of the investigation is due to be published shortly.

As part of some wider electrical and rewiring and redecoration works under way in Admiralty House, one new hardwood timber door is being procured. This is being procured from an independently-certified sustainable source.

In May 2002 the Cabinet Office entered into a private finance initiative contract with Initial Style Conferences Ltd. (ISC) for a rolling programme of construction and refurbishment works to the Sunningdale Park estate. The terms of the contract require ISC to purchase timber or timber products which are compliant with the Government's policy on timber procurement relevant at the time. The Cabinet Office will provide the details of the timber procurement policy relevant at any particular time and work with ISC to ensure their compliance with it.

The refurbishment of the National Crises Management Centre is due to commence within the next six months. The contract specification for this will include a clause stating that all timber used in the project should be procured in accordance with the Government's policy on timber procurement current at the time. The Cabinet Office will be responsible for providing details of the policy to the contractor and will work with them to help ensure their compliance with it.

Ombudsman System

Huw Irranca-Davies: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what plans he has to bring forward legislation to reform the ombudsman system. [63978]

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Mr. Alexander: I have been asked to reply.

The Government have made clear that they intend to bring forward legislation to replace the existing arrangements with a more unified ombudsman body when parliamentary time allows.

Fire Stations

Mr. Alan Campbell: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how many fire stations have been (a) opened and (b) closed since 1995. [65521]

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Mr. Raynsford: Based on annual returns to HM Fire Service Inspectorate, the number of fire stations in each fire authority area in England and Wales at 1 January for each year from 1995 to 2002 is set out in the table. On the basis of these returns, 10 fire stations have opened and 14 closed since 1 January 1995. However, these figures do not reflect instances where the opening of a fire station is balanced by the closure of another in the same fire authority within the same calendar year.

Number of fire stations in England and Wales at 1 January 1995–1 January 2002

Brigade name19951996199719981999200020012002
Avon2323232323232323
Bedfordshire1414141414141414
Buckinghamshire2222202020202020
Cambridgeshire2828282828282828
Cheshire2424242424242424
Cleveland1515151515151515
Cornwall3131313131313131
County Durham and Darlington1717161515151515
Cumbria3838383838383838
Derbyshire3131313131313131
Devon5858585858585858
Dorset2626292929292930
East Sussex2424242424242424
Essex5151515151515151
Gloucestershire2020202020202020
Greater Manchester4443434343434343
Hampshire5555545454545252
Hereford and Worcester2626262626262627
Hertfordshire3232323232323232
Humberside3131313131313132
Isle of Wight1010101010101010
Isles of Scilly77777777
Kent6666666666666666
Lancashire4040404040404040
Leicestershire1920202020202020
Lincolnshire3737373737373838
London113113113113113113112112
Merseyside2727272727262626
Mid and West Wales6060575757575757
Norfolk4040404040404040
North Wales4444444444444444
North Yorkshire3737373737373737
Northamptonshire2222222222222222
Northumberland1919191919191919
Nottinghamshire2525252525252525
Oxfordshire2424242424242424
Royal Berkshire2020202020202020
Shropshire2323232323232323
Somerset2424242424242424
South Wales5050505050505050
South Yorkshire2424242424242424
Staffordshire3030303030303030
Suffolk3636363636363636
Surrey2424242424242424
Tyne and Wear1818181919191919
Warwickshire2020202020191919
West Midlands4141414141414141
West Sussex2828282828282828
West Yorkshire5050505050505050
Wiltshire2425252525252525
Total1,6121,6131,6091,6091,6091,6071,6051,608

Source:

ODPM calendar year returns


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