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Lord Rooker: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her good wishes. I was trying to keep quiet about the matter. I also thank her for her welcome. As I said, the department has published a document relating to the unlocking of the potential of empty property only last week, which is a valuable practical guide.

The project concerning living over shops has made a valuable contribution. I have met Ann Petherick on at least two occasions. She is part of the task force of the British Property Federation. At a meeting late last year I asked it to look into the issue. There has been previous funding from my department, but we have no plans for funding at the moment. However, I understand that one of the recommendations which will be brought forward by the task force is for a national programme. I hope that we shall be able to discuss that with our colleagues in the Treasury. More information needs to be available. There is so much potential for extra revenue let alone for the extra homes for commercial properties. About 18 billion a year could be saved and be available to UK businesses through the improved use of their own property. So there is an enormous economic and social potential. But as regards a particular project I cannot give a commitment in advance of the recommendations from the Property Federation task force.

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord on his birthday. I believe that everyday is a birthday at the moment when dealing with the Local Government Bill. I add my support for further action on flats above shops. A great many towns in my own county have vacant flats above shops. With the new effort to provide much more affordable housing, it seems that many communities could add to the number, particularly for young people. It would also regenerate our cities and towns.

I was pleased to hear what the Minister said, but could not the Government do more? The task force suggested that flats could be built above the properties.

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The Government could do more to encourage the use and the building of flats above commercial properties in towns where we need more housing.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the policy is mixed-use development because that keeps the city centres alive, cuts down crime and reduces car use. There are a host of advantages. Building over shops is one thing, but there is a potential for 300,000 homes in existing empty spaces above commercial promises. Originally, it was living space, but in many cases that was not so. I have had my ears bent about this matter: there are some legal problems. The major property owners do not want to become landlords other than of the retail outlet which has the premises. The outlet does not wish to become the landlord. That is why the lessons from the project for living above shops should be taken on board on a national level. It is recognised that there is a need for an intermediary to deal with the landlord arrangements so that neither the retail tenant nor the property owner is involved in that aspect because it is not their business and they wish to do other things. We want to encourage them to make better use of the properties. Building above retail units and building mixed developments are part of the policy which we are trying to pursue.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, the noble Lord referred to the potential for 300,000 homes to be recovered from empty premises above shops. Taking empty properties as a whole, can the Minister indicate what their contribution could be if they were brought back into use for future housing needs?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I was referring to empty properties in terms of empty dwellings. There are at least 80,000 in London. There are probably a few hundred thousand in the country as a whole. One must be very careful about the figures one gives because the snapshot taken of empty dwellings includes dwellings which are being bought and sold and all kinds of other arrangements. There may be as many as 400,000 empty dwellings, 80,000 of which are in London. We have proposals as regards dwellings left deliberately empty—I am not speaking about second homes or anything of that kind—not to confiscate them, but to do what we can to encourage their return to use. We shall be producing proposals on that in due course.

Fly Tipping

3.l5 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What proposals they have for dealing with the increase in fly tipping.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, The Government are committed to dealing with the serious and growing problem of fly tipping. The Anti-Social Behaviour Bill

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currently before another place, includes measures which will help the Environment Agency and local authorities to trace and prosecute those responsible for fly tipping. The Government are also considering a wide range of other measures, details of which will be published later this year and brought forward at the nearest legislative opportunity.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. All of us are aware of seeing the countryside being despoiled by fly tipping, but is the Minister aware of the very real concerns of the charity shops in towns which are suffering from fly tipping by stealth because they are given up to 15 million sacks of textiles and other materials each year? The shops recycle this material but exclude items of no use. That converts what was domestic waste into commercial waste and the charity shops are charged at the full rate for disposing of such items. Does the Minister believe that, as is the situation with some local authorities, there is a case for making a partial allowance for the very major recycling of wasted goods necessary in a year? Can he encourage his department to ensure that more local authorities look at that possibility?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, there are various recycling schemes with which local authorities are being encouraged to deal. In some case that would include some of the waste recycled by charities. It is a more difficult concept to take as a matter of principle that the charities' unwanted goods, however originally deposited, can be regarded other than as waste and therefore charged as waste either at the collection point or at the civic amenity. Some quite difficult issues are involved here.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, will my noble friend express the hope that the House welcomes the Bill to which he referred, but can we be sure that the penalties for this grossly unsocial and often evil behaviour will be sufficiently severe to deter it?

Lord Whitty: My Lord, the current maximum penalty for fly tipping is already pretty severe. For ordinary fly tipping it is up to 20,000 or two years' imprisonment. For hazardous waste the penalties are unlimited. The problem is that the actual level of fines is substantially lower than that. I see that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is not seated on the Woolsack at the moment, but I do not want anything I say to be interpreted as an attack on the courts. The importance of this and other environmental crimes deserves better recognition from the magistrates.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, the Minister has just mentioned hazardous waste. I am sure that he is aware that in July next year the number of landfill sites which will take such waste will be reduced from about 180 to about 14. What guidance will the Minister's department give to industry about

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what it should do with hazardous waste? Such a drastic reduction is likely to result in a greatly increased level of fly tipping of hazardous waste.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I disagree. I do not recognise the precise figures, but clearly the number of hazardous waste sites under the new regulations will be considerably limited. The problem at the moment is that hazardous waste is deposited with non-hazardous materials in what have hitherto been legal landfills. The whole point of the new regulations is to ensure that hazardous waste is separated and dealt with in a more managed way. I believe that the new regulations will provide for that. Therefore, I am less worried about any regression in dealing with hazardous waste; indeed, I believe that the situation will improve. The volume of non-hazardous waste and where it is tipped is the main cause of greater anxiety about fly tipping.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Environment Agency sometimes takes many months to produce an enforcement order; and that after its issue it still takes a long time to deal with the situation?

Lord Whitty: Yes, my Lords, I am aware that there has been delay in the system. That is partly because the Environment Agency has not hitherto had the powers to trace the vehicles or individuals concerned, either through the business—whereas it now has powers as a result of our changing the regulations earlier this year—or under the new powers in the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill if Parliament accepts it.

Lord Brookman: My Lords, most of the fly tipping I notice is building material. It is offensive to all communities. The Minister said the punishment that currently inveighs is quite severe. What are the figures for prosecutions and how many people have been to gaol, for example, for this offensive situation?


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