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The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): On Sunday 3May allegations were made in the media regarding the expenses claims of a Member of the House. The Clerk of the Parliaments, as Accounting Officer, will carry out an initial investigation of the allegations and will report his findings to committees of the House as appropriate.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning (Margaret Beckett)has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I am today publishing a consultation on proposals for a new Planning Policy Statement 4: Planning for Prosperous Economies (PPS4). Copies of the consultation are being placed in the Library of the House.
The planning system is a key lever the Government have to contribute towards improving economic performance. The current uncertain economic times have highlighted the need for planning policies at the national, regional and local level to be flexible and responsive so that they support the economic aspirations of our communities, whether in cities, market towns or rural villages.
In light of this and in keeping with our commitment in our 2007 planning White Paper and the recommendations of the Killian Pretty review, this comprehensive new draft statement brings together in one place all of the Governments key planning policies relating to the economy and streamlines and simplifies policy to focus on what is important to allow the economy to grow in a sustainable manner.
The new PPS will, in its final form, replace Planning Policy Guidance Note 4: Industrial, Commercial Development and Small Firms (PPG4, 1992), Planning Policy Guidance Note 5: Simplified Planning Zones
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At the heart of our policy is the requirement that development plans need to have clear, proactive, proportionate and flexible policies aimed at supporting the start up and growth of businesses, attracting inward investment and increasing employment, particularly in deprived areas. It emphasises that we need also to protect existing investment in our cities and towns by safeguarding the town centres which are the bedrock of our economic future. Our urban centres are not only the engine of the countrys economyand through its urban renaissance policy this Government have strengthened the future of many such centres after years of declinebut are also the hub of community life, helping to stitch together communities through cultural, leisure, social and educational facilities.
The policy statement continues to put town centres first by ensuring that development continues to take place in town centres and promotes their vitality, viability and character. As previously consulted on in draft PPS6, we have removed the need test for proposals outside town centres but retained the sequential test which requires developers to justify why they cannot build in the centre before they seek to build out of town and strengthened the impact test to focus on the potential economic, social and environmental effects of development.
The revised policy also implements a number of recommendations arising from Matthew Taylor MPs review of rural housing and economic development. The Government agree with his key finding that we need a more subtle appreciation of what makes rural communities sustainable, and that rural communities, as much as urban areas, need to plan for change in the face of new economic, environmental and demographic pressures. In bringing together our policies on economic development in town and country into one policy statement we are emphasising in the rural context what is taken for granted in urban contexts: that economic sustainability is a prerequisite for social and environmental sustainability.
Similarly, we are responding to the thrust of the recommendations made in the advice provided to the Prime Minister by Stuart Burgess, the rural advocate. We see both the rural advocates report and the Taylor review as important elements of a growing consensus which recognises the economic opportunities offered by rural areas and the contribution they make to the economy at large.
The draft statement does not include any specific proposals for a competition test that was recommended by the Competition Commission. In June 2008, Tesco PLC challenged the commissions recommendation in the Competition Appeal Tribunal. In March 2009, the application by Tesco was allowed and the recommendation quashed. The tribunal unanimously concluded that the commission, in its report, had failed properly to consider certain matters which were relevant to its recommendation that the competition test be imposed
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The proposed changes I am setting out today will play a part in facilitating sustainable economic growth in urban and rural areas and ensuring our town centres thrive for years to come. The consultation closes on 28 July 2009.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Sadiq Khan) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 requires the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to set and meet a timetable for the majority of planning cases which are to be decided by her (as opposed to being decided by a planning inspector) and to make a report to Parliament each year on performance. This is intended both to ensure that such cases are dealt with expeditiously and to enable the parties to any particular case to know when they can expect to receive a decision.
The Secretary of State has accordingly today laid before Parliament an Act Paper reporting on performance on all decisions made between 1 April 2008 and 31 March 2009 to which statutory timetables apply. Such timetables apply to decisions on called-in planning applications; planning appeals recovered for the Secretary of States decision; other cases linked to such decisions (including listed building consent and conservation area consent); and appeals against refusals of consent for works to trees covered by tree preservation orders. They do not apply to cases decided by inspectors (which includes all tree preservation order appeals lodged on or after 1 April 2008) or to cases decided by the Secretary of State jointly with a Minister of another department.
During the period from 1 April 2008 to 31 March 2009, 73 (95 per cent) of the 77 cases decided by the Secretary of State other than tree preservation order appeals were made within their statutory timetables, as were 415 out of 416 decisions (99.75 per cent) of tree preservation order appeals.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Lord Young of Norwood Green): I regret that the Oral Answer that I gave to Baroness Sharp of Guildford on 26 March 2009 (Official Report, col. 758) was incorrect.
In my Answer, I stated that nearly 400 colleges in England have been modernised [...]. That was incorrect, and in fact, over half the further education college estate of nearly 400 colleges has been modernised.
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