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Written Answers

Tuesday 10th January 1995

HEDGES: USE ON MOTORWAYS AND DUAL CARRIAGEWAYS

Viscount Devonport asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will adopt the practice common in continental Europe of planting motorway and dual carriageway central reservations with hedges to screen the glare from headlights of oncoming vehicles at night; and what research they have undertaken to establish the value of hedges in controlling dust and pollution and reducing the effect of noise emanating from motorways and dual carriageways.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): These are operational matters for the Highways Agency. I have asked the Chief Executive, Mr. Lawrie Haynes, to write to the noble Viscount.

Letter to Viscount Devonport from the Chief Executive of the Highways Agency, Mr. Lawrie Haynes:



    The Viscount Goschen has asked me to write to you in reply to your recent parliamentary Questions about the use of hedges as a means of reducing headlight glare from oncoming vehicles, controlling dust and pollution, and reducing noise from trunk roads and motorways.


    Whilst we fully recognise the benefits that hedges within the central reservation can bring to reducing the glare from headlights of oncoming traffic, hedges are not generally provided. We have found that it is difficult to establish trees or shrubs and to maintain them in good condition in a central reserve under 10m wide. This is because the reserve usually also has to accommodate drains and lighting columns, safety fences or telecommunications equipment and is an extremely hostile environment for plants due to winter saltings and turbulence from passing traffic. Similar conditions occur less frequently on the majority of roads on the Continent.


    Hedgerows could be established if wider central reserves were provided. This would mean, however, that additional land would be required, and no matter what the width of the central reserve, access

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for maintenance is difficult and has substantial road safety implications for personnel undertaking the maintenance work.


    The Government commissioned research through the Transport and Road Research Laboratory between 1974 and 1982 which showed that, although vegetation could perform a screening function for some pollutants, especially particulates, for many species this resulted either in damage to, or the death of the plants, so making any benefits short term. Planting including hedgerows is therefore usually provided as a means of visual screening or to help integrate the road into the landscape through which it passes. This means that predominantly native species are used.


    Research in this country and practice abroad have shown that very dense vegetative barriers can reduce measured noise levels. However, there are problems with the sustainablity and maintenance of such barriers. The best species to achieve the required density is willow, and this often needs irrigation and can suffer from pest attack. Traditional hedges are not dense enough to have a noticeable effect on measured noise.


    There is research evidence to suggest that listeners perceive some noise reduction when the noise source is partially visually screened. Currently we are undertaking research to see how we might use vegetation to exploit this perceived benefit.

COLSTERWORTH ROAD JUNCTION: ACCIDENTS

Lord Monson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many road accidents resulting in (a) deaths: (b) serious casualties; (c) slight casualties occurred at or adjacent to the junction of the A.1 and the B.6403 near Colsterworth in each of the last five years for which statistics are available.

Viscount Goschen: This is an operational matter for the Highways Agency. I have asked the Chief Executive, Mr. Lawrie Haynes, to write to the noble Lord.

Letter to Lord Monson from the Chief Executive of the Highways Agency, Mr. Lawrie Haynes:



    I have been asked to reply to your recent Parliamentary Question about road accidents at or adjacent to the junction of the A.1 and the B.6403 near Colsterworth.


    The number of accidents resulting in (a) deaths, (b) serious casualties and (c) slight casualties in each of the years 1989 to 1993, and also provisionally in 1994 to the end of September, are given in the table attached.

Numbers of accidents resulting in:—
Deaths Serious Casualties Slight Casualties Total
1989 0 1 3 4
1990 2 0 1 3
1991 0 0 2 2
1992 0 2 4 6
1993 1 2 3 6
1994 (provisional to end of September) 0 1 2 3
Total (5¾ years) 3 6 15 24

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PLANNING INSPECTORATE: REVIEW

Lord Brougham and Vaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to review the Planning Inspectorate.

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The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Viscount Ullswater): The Planning Inspectorate, as an executive Next Steps Agency, is being reviewed. As part of the usual arrangements for Next Steps agencies, performance and activities will be subjected to the normal prior options tests set out in the 1993 Next Steps Review (Cm 2430).

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Comments and contributions from those with an interest in the work of the agency will be welcome, and should be sent, by 28 February 1995, to Richard Jones, Planning Directorate, Department of the Environment, 2 Marsham Street, London SW1P 3EB, for England or to Peter Roderick, Planning Division, Welsh Office, Cathay's Park, Cardiff, CFI 3NQ for Wales.

The Planning Inspectorate was launched as an Executive Agency, in the Department of the Environment and the Welsh Office, in April 1992. It serves the Secretaries of State for the Environment and Wales on appeals and other casework under planning, housing, environment, highways and allied legislation.

WALES: POLICE FUNDING PROPOSALS

Lord Hooson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why the level of funding for police forces in Wales has been scaled down by some 4 per cent. compared with similar forces in England.

Lord Lucas: In a difficult local government revenue settlement it is necessary to balance the needs of police and other local authority services. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales is of the view that £300.7 million is an appropriate level of resources for police. It is less than the level of police resources implied by the full application of the police funding formula and this has given rise to the difference in scaling.

The sum of £300.7 million for police services nevertheless represents an increase of 6 per cent. on 1994–95 budgets and demonstrates the importance the Government attach to policing. It compares with a settlement increase for other local authority services of around 0.5 per cent. The Secretary of State for Wales is of the view that to direct resources from county and district council services to policing would put an unreasonable strain on those services. His funding proposals are provisional and are the subject of consultation.

Lord Hooson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why, in allocating the additional £16 million made available to him to distribute between the four police forces in Wales, the Secretary of State gave £12.7 million to South Wales and £3.5 million to Gwent and nothing to the other police forces; and on what grounds he based his decision.

Lord Lucas: The allocation of resources between the individual police forces derives from a funding formula for police authorities in England and Wales which the Government propose to introduce for 1995–96.

The aim of the formula is to distribute money objectively and fairly in relation to each area's need for policing. The formula assesses the need for policing by looking at factors such as population density and the social characteristics of each area. It also includes approved police establishments as an indicator of need; this factor—weighted at 50 per cent.—takes account of the need for continuity and stability of funding.

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The Government are at present consulting on the formula and resulting distribution of resources to individual police authorities. Their final proposals will be announced shortly.

HOUSING BENEFIT: AVERAGE RENT CALCULATION

Lord Milverton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What method they propose to use in calculating the average rent for housing benefit payments.

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): We are considering options and will be discussing these with, for example, the local authority associations and the Institute of Rent Officers.

HOUSING BENEFIT: EMPTY PROPERTIES

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the statement of Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish (HL Deb, 30 November 1994, col. 646), which categories of people with exceptional reasons for being absent from home beyond 13 weeks will retain entitlement to housing benefit; whether these categories allow the flexibility to provide for unforseen cases; and what consultations are in progress on the subject.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Proposals for amending the rules for the payment of housing benefit in respect of housing costs on empty properties provide, subject to certain qualifying conditions, for benefit to be paid for up to the first 13 weeks of a person's temporary absence from home, and for up to 52 weeks in prescribed circumstances. The proposed circumstances are: – prisoners held on remand; – hospital in-patients; – persons away from home for medically approved treatment or convalescence for themselves or dependants; – persons providing or receiving medically approved care; – persons receiving care in residential accommodation; – persons undertaking a training course; – persons in remunerative work in the UK.

It is intended to retain the current flexibility which enables benefit to be awarded for 52 weeks even though the period of absence exceeds the normally permitted maximum of 52 weeks.

The proposals have been put to the Social Security Advisory Committee and the local authority associations. The Social Security Advisory Committee have decided to consult with interested bodies and are due to report to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State early in 1995.

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