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Baroness Hayman: My Lords, it is right that any application for development within an AONB must take account of policy guidance in Planning Policy Guidance Note 7. That states that, in general, policies and development-controlled decisions affecting areas of outstanding natural beauty should favour conservation of the natural beauty of the landscape and has the presumption against major development that I noted earlier.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, does the Minister recognise that that application for an airport has large regional consequences as well as merely local ones? There may also be national implications. Does the Minister agree that the whole problem of planning, from the point of view of a local authority, is that there is no context of a national airports policy against which it can make a judgment?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I accept that, almost by definition, any application for a regional airport will have regional implications and also that the policy with regard to regional airports generally is one of national concern in the context of national aviation policy. I hope that we can set a framework in the White Paper which will be published later this month on integrated transport policy. We are also looking specifically at the issue of regional airports and the effect, for example, on the economy and the environment and doing that in the context of a study of regional airport policy in the south-west.
Lord Ironside: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that Suffolk County Council is wrestling with airfield commercialisation in another of its areas of outstanding natural beauty; namely, at Nayland? That is Constable country right in the middle of the Stour Valley. Can she therefore given an assurance to the House that that area of outstanding natural beauty will not be threatened by civil aviation developments in the same way as the Suffolk coastline is now being threatened by the proposed regional airport development at Bentwaters?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I cannot give specific assurances in regard to specific or potential applications. I have tried to make clear that the general rules regarding areas of outstanding natural beauty exist and are clear for local planning authorities to take into account. The whole issue in relation to regional airports should be considered in the context of regional and local planning. It is in those contexts that the regional office government officers will monitor individual applications. If they consider that there is a national interest issue which ought to be referred to the Secretary of State, they will advise accordingly.
Lord Bowness: My Lords, does the Minister agree that many aspects of the proposal require detailed consideration, including the extent and the kind of use which has been referred to by other noble Lords this afternoon? Is she satisfied that local planning authorities have the appropriate planning powers and the ability to impose planning conditions which are adequate to control those kinds of development; or is it a matter in
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, our plans for regional planning guidance will ensure that in future a regional transport plan is included in regional planning guidance. That would allow exactly that kind of strategic context to be set for each region.
Baroness Castle of Blackburn: I appreciate that reassurance. But is the Minister aware of the growing national concern at the increasing tendency of local health authorities to consider, in their desperate search for economies, that community hospitals are expendable? Is she aware, for example, that Watlington Hospital in the rural area in which I live is now threatened with closure as part of an attempt to raise £1.5 million worth of cuts? Would it not be a tragedy if this Government, who believe so strongly in making community care more worth while and more humane, were to allow this vital element of local community care, which is so helpful, particularly to the elderly, just to be swept aside in the overall rush for competing claims?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I very much appreciate what my noble friend said about the Government's intention to improve community services. That is indeed the case. However, I would challenge her view that this is a widespread change which is happening throughout the health service. In fact, at the moment, only four possible community hospital closures have been referred to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State--all four of those are in Cornwall--and he is now in very detailed discussion with the regional health authority responsible to try to achieve a solution which does not involve closing all those hospitals. As far as concerns the Oxfordshire situation, I would suggest to my noble friend that that health
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, does the Minister agree that many community hospitals and cottage hospitals can provide a useful local service and also respite care? Is she aware that in some areas of the country, such as Essex, these hospitals have been taken over by groups of general practitioners? They are used for local people and take pressure off the major hospitals.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: Yes, my Lords. I very much agree with the noble Baroness that there have been several imaginative schemes to keep open these services in different localities. The point is that there can be no national blueprint for this kind of service because in some places a traditional community cottage hospital may be the most appropriate way of spending local resources but in others community-based nursing services may offer the same services in a more appropriate way.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I believe that decision is still under consideration. It is difficult to define community hospitals; but within the terms of the discussion this afternoon, that would not come within that category.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, does the Minister agree with the new emphasis on primary health care? But is it not difficult for general practitioners to look after their patients if they do not have facilities to do that? Does she further agree that there is tremendous support from local people for community hospitals?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, there is always support for services which people feel are those which serve the local community well. However, I would suggest to the noble Baroness that there are new ways of offering that kind of direct care which may be attractive to people in different parts of the country. For example, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State yesterday announced that we were extending the NHS Direct service, which is the 24-hour nurse-led helpline, so that it now covers 10 million people in the country. That may be one of the ways in which, imaginatively, we can improve these services in the future.
Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m., my noble friend Lady Hollis of Heigham will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is to be made in another place on child support.