Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence


Memoranda from the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions

DEPARTMENTAL RESPONSIBILITIES FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

INTRODUCTION

  1.  The Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (the Rt Hon Stephen Byers MP) has agreed to appear before the Environmental Audit Committee on 22 November 2001 when the Committee will discuss a number of issues relating to environmental protection and sustainable development. This Memorandum sets out the Department's position on a number of issues raised by the Committee in advance of the Secretary of State's appearance.

How important is it for Government to establish the correct allocation of Ministerial responsibilities and the correct structure within Whitehall, for the effective delivery of policy?

  2.  The Government believes that it is vital to have structures that enable it to deliver its priorities as effectively as possible.

  3.  After the General Election the Prime Minister made a number of major changes to the machinery of Government. The outcome of these changes was a set of streamlined departments with a sharper focus on the Government's key priorities for delivery of public services.

  4.  For example, this enabled the Government to create a new Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, bringing agriculture and the wider rural economy together with environment and countryside issues. There is clear synergy between these issues and the creation of DEFRA will capitalise on this.

In what ways do the Department's overall objectives incorporate and reflect a commitment to sustainable development?

  5.  The Departments overarching aim is better transport and thriving, prosperous, safe communities. The Government's commitment to sustainable development is central to the achievement of that goal. Underpinning the Department's overarching aim are a number of high level objectives. They are:

    (i)  Reliable, safe and integrated transport for everyone, which respects the environment,

    (ii)  A sustainable pattern of land use, promoted by an efficient planning system,

    (iii)  A high quality of life for all in our towns and cities,

    (iv)  The renewal of our most deprived communities,

    (v)  A decent home for everyone,

    (vi)  Effective community leadership and high quality public services,

    (vii)  Successful regions, which develop a strategic vision for the future through elected local government,

    (viii)  Improved health and safety by reducing risks from work activity, buildings and fire,

    (ix)  Improved transport safety and crime prevention.

  All the above objectives contribute to the four main aims of the Government's overall sustainable development strategy:

    —  social progress which recognises the needs of everyone;

    —  effective protection of the environment;

    —  prudent use of natural resources; and

    —  maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment.

  6.  Furthermore, DTLR's Service Delivery Agreement (which states how the above objectives are to be delivered) sets out which of the sustainable development indicators as published in Quality of Life Counts are affected by each of the above objectives. That approach reflects the Committee's earlier recommendation in its Third Report Comprehensive Spending Review: Government Response and Follow Up, published on 14 February 2000.

  7.  DTLR has lead responsibility for three of the 15 "headline" indicators in Quality of Life Counts, on housing, road traffic and land use. In addition, many of the Department's policies and programmes impact on the other headline indicators. For example, the 10 Year Plan for Transport will contribute to the improvement of air quality and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

To what extent will splitting lead responsibility for the environment and for transport between two departments hinder or enhance the Government's ability to deliver a sustainable transport policy? What benefits did the Government expect to derive from this arrangement?

  8.  The transfer of lead responsibility for environmental issues from DETR to DEFRA does not change our approach to transport and the environment. The Department is committed to a sustainable transport policy. The Government's 10 Year Plan for Transport will help to achieve economic, social and environmental objectives now and in the longer term. The contribution of the Plan to sustainable development is assessed through an appraisal system which takes into account sustainable development objectives and processes. The delivery of the Plan is embedded in the Government's environmental strategies: in particular the national air quality strategy and our commitments under the Kyoto protocol.

  9.  There will continue to be strong links between transport and the environment (as reflected in objective (i) in paragraph 5 above). DEFRA and DTLR will work closely together to ensure that policies take into account environmental impact and help promote sustainable development. As part of that close liaison, a senior DEFRA official sits on the DTLR Transport Board.

  10.  As the Prime Minister said when he announced the major package of machinery of Government changes after the General Election, when taken together they will ensure a much sharper focus on the Government's priorities and the need to deliver better public services.

Has any protocol been established between the DTLR and DEFRA to aid effective communications and co-operation on sustainable development and environmental protection?

  11.  A concordat has been developed and agreed between DEFRA and DTLR which builds on the continuing good working relations on sustainable development, including environmental matters, between the two Departments.

  12.  The concordat covers working arrangements between Ministers and officials in areas such as transport, planning, rural affairs, sustainable development, Press Offices and the management of former DETR NDPBs. It also paves the way for promoting the common agenda on transport and the environment and on the relationship between the rural and urban agenda, including joint publications.

Does DLTR have any plans to develop its own Sustainable Development strategy or environmental protection statement as some departments have done? If so, what progress has been made? If not why not?

  13.  The Department does plan to develop its own sustainable development strategy, so that the principles of sustainable development are fully integrated into the work of the new Department. The strategy will be published in the course of 2002 after consultation with DEFRA and the Sustainable Development Commission. In the meantime, the Department has:

      (i)  established a new sustainable development team within the Department; and nominated a Board member as sustainable development "champion",

      (ii)  developed an integrated policy appraisal methodology which considers social, economic and environmental issues simultaneously (see paragraph 15 below); and

      (iii)  is using of a summary version of that methodology in formulating the Departments Spending Review 2002 bids.

  14.  The Department would welcome comments from the Committee on what it would expect to see in the Department's sustainable development strategy.

Has your department set up any Steering Group (or other management committee) to oversee the integration of environmental issues into policy and operations? Does it plan to do so?

  15.  The DTLR Board itself takes a direct interest in sustainable development, and has agreed the arrangements for handling sustainable development in the Department, and has discussed and agreed the use of integrated policy appraisal. We expect integration of environmental and other sustainable development objectives in policy making to be better achieved by implementation of the Integrated Policy Appraisal (IPA) tool. Work on this is being led by DTLR, under the supervision of a steering group of policy makers and economists from DTLR and DEFRA. The tool will provide policy makers with a framework for assessment of their proposals against a series of environmental, social and economic impacts. A preliminary version of the IPA tool is being used as the basic means of assembling evidence for DTLR and DEFRA's sustainable development reports for their SR2002 bids.

  16.  DLTR and DEFRA also operate a joint Appraisal Group which provides a forum for the discussion of methodological issues on appraisal and evaluation, and in which environmental issues feature prominently. This covers environmental, rural and countryside policy issues which are now the responsibility of DEFRA, as well as all DTLR policy areas. After consultation with policy colleagues in ex-MAFF, it is hoped to extend the remit to include agricultural issues. Membership is drawn from both analyst experts and policy officials in DTLR and DEFRA.

  17.  Alan Whitehead (Green Minister) has responsibility for both sustainable development and greening operations issues. A greening operations policy statement will be issued shortly. Greening operations is co-ordinated by the environmental management team in DLTR's Commercial Directorate. The team links with Agency Chief Executives and local "green" contacts and adopts a collaborative approach to agreeing DLTR policy and targets. Dr Whitehead meets regularly with the environmental management team to discuss green issue progress and performance. DEFRA is represented on a working level group, chaired by the DTLR Board sustainable development champion.

  18.  The Department has set itself targets for the greening of its operations and made good progress against these, including a reduction in energy usage, the procurement of electricity from renewable sources; reduced water consumption at our metered sites, an increase in the amount of waste that is recycled, and the development of travel plans for all significant buildings. Earlier this month, the Department's Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency won an award for recycling, and the Department also received an award for developing and leading a collaborative contract for recycled paper for printed publications.

What is the timetable for the current review of planning procedures? How has environmental protection and sustainable development been built into that review?

  19.  As the Prime Minister stated at the CBI National Conference on 5 November, we intend to publish a Green Paper on the review of the land use planning system in December. A copy of the Green Paper will be sent to the Committee when it is published. The consultation period will last until Easter.

  20.  The Green Paper is only one part of the review of planning. In addition:

    —  A consultation paper on planning obligations/s. 106 agreements will appear shortly after the Green Paper.

    —  A consultation document about compulsory purchase and compensation will also appear shortly after the Green Paper.

    —  In addition we plan to issue a consultation paper on Parliamentary procedures for major infrastructure projects.

  21.  The Green Paper is about process rather than about policy. However, the Committee can be assured that the text of the Green Paper takes account of and reflects Government policy on, inter alia, sustainable development.

20 November 2001


 
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