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Ms Keeble: The administration of the blue badge scheme is the responsibility of individual local authorities. When they have received the information they require to process an application they should be expected to do so without delay.
A comprehensive review of the blue badge scheme is currently being undertaken by my Department, which will look at the administration of the scheme and will also consider the case for temporary badges. Consultation on a discussion paper, which was issued to the main stakeholders, including disability organisations and local authorities, ended recently. The Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC- our statutory advisers on the transport and mobility needs of disabled people) are considering responses and are due to report their recommendations to the Secretary of State around the end of this month. In the light of those recommendations we aim to decide on the way forward with the scheme over the summer.
Dr. Whitehead: The Government provide general grant for revenue expenditure through the local government finance settlement. It is for the local authorities themselves to determine how much of these resources they direct towards combating drug abuse. Government also provides the following ring-fenced grants to local authorities:
A grant for drug prevention in schools, provided through the Schools Standards Fund (£9.5 million for 200203).
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Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what assessment he has made of the effect on the housing market of vacant dwellings (a) in England and (b) in the local area. 
Mr. Byers: In our assessment, in areas where the housing market is functioning well, vacant dwellings may lead to increased pressure on the housing stock and for development on greenfield land. They may also blight neighbouring properties. In areas of low housing demand, where the proportion of vacant dwellings may be more highly concentrated, they can escalate the decline of an area, act as a magnet for crime, vandalism, arson and antisocial behaviour and create negative equity problems for those living in adjacent dwellings.
Local authorities are responsible for assessing the effect of vacant dwellings on the local housing market and for developing strategies to minimise their number, as part of their wider housing strategy.
Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions how many vacant dwellings there were and how many vacant dwellings were privately owned in each of the last five years, broken down by local authority area. 
Mr. Byers: I have placed the information requested in the Libraries of the House. The table presents data showing the total number of vacant dwellings and how many of these were privately owned at 1 April in each local authority area in England for the last five years (19972001).
Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions how many vacant dwellings that have been (a) vacant for more than six months, (b) vacant for between three to six months and (c) vacant for less than three months, are waiting to be (i) sold, (ii) let and (iii) redeveloped. 
Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions how many vacant dwellings there were and how many were privately owned in each of the last five years; and how many were vacant (a) for more than six months, (b) between three to six months and (c) for less than three months. 
|Total vacant||Privately owned|
Information on the length of time dwellings were vacant is not available in the form requested.
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Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if he will take steps to ensure mobile telephone masts should receive positive planning permission, regardless of their height. 
Ms Keeble: On 22 August last year we introduced changes that significantly improved the planning procedures and guidance for telecommunications mast development. The changes, which included, amendments to the 1995 Order:
increased the time for an authority to deal with prior approval applications to 56 days;
underlined that school governors must be consulted on all proposals for new masts on or near a school or college; and
increased fees to enable authorities to carry out full public consultation.
Mr. Byers: My Department's approach to sustainable development is consistent with the Government's overall sustainable development strategy "A better quality of life" (Cm 4345) published in May 1999. The strategy has four main aims:
Effective protection of the environment;
Prudent use of natural resources;
Maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment.
Mr. Don Foster: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, pursuant to his answer of 19 March 2002, Official Report, column 228W, on the cost of rescues by the fire service, what is the most recent guidance he has given to chief fire officers on recording the costs of (a) fires attended, (b) rescues from road traffic accidents and (c) other rescues by their fire authority. 
Dr. Whitehead: Following the introduction of Best Value, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy published revised accounting guidance "Best Value AccountingCode of Practice" for local authorities. Best Value authorities, including fire authorities, are subject to the revised guidance from 1 April 2001. The Code is reviewed on an annual basis. It contains sections on service expenditure analysis, including one on the provision of fire services.
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Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if he will make a statement on his Department's policy (a) towards new out of town shopping centre developments and (b) on new shopping centre developments within existing towns. 
Mr. Byers: The Government's planning policy for town centres and retail developments, which is contained in Planning Policy Guidance Note 6: Town Centres and Retail Developments (PPG6), seeks to sustain and enhance the vitality and viability of our existing city, town and district centres to make them the focus for retail and other investment. The policy contributes to delivering the urban renaissance, securing more sustainable patterns of development and promoting social inclusion.
Proposals for new developments within existing city, town and district centres are not subject to the main policy tests in PPG6. They should, however, be in accordance with an up-to-date development plan and of a scale that is appropriately related to the size and function of centre, and its catchment, that they seek to serve.
Development proposals for new shopping centres outside city, town and district centres, or extensions to existing ones, are subject to the policy tests in PPG6. Where proposals are not in accord with an up-to-date development plan there is a requirement to demonstrate the need for any additional retail provision and to apply a sequential approach to selecting the location, starting with town centre sites, followed by edge-of-centre and only then out-of-centre sites in locations which are accessible by a choice of means of transport. Applicants must also be able to demonstrate that in considering more central locations they have been flexible about the format, scale and design of their development proposals and the amount of car parking.
A shopping centre proposal which a local planning authority is minded to permit and which is not in accord with the development plan for the area should be referred to my Department in accordance with the Town and Country Planning (Development Plans and Consultation) (Departures) Directions 1999. The Town and Country Planning (Shopping Development) (England and Wales) (No.2) Direction 1993 requires referral of applications for retail proposals above a prescribed size. In the case of referral under either Direction, the Secretary of State will then decide whether the proposal should be called in for his own determination.
Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what plans his Department has to alter planning guidance and regulations relating to shopping centre developments;and if he will list the changes to planning guidance and planning regulations relating to shopping centre developments since 1997. 
18 Apr 2002 : Column 1091W
the parliamentary answer of 5 December 1997 (Hansard Vol. 302, columns 401402) by the Minister for Planning, clarifying that extensions to existing retail developments would be subject to the same policy tests as new development;
the statement of 11 February 1999 by the Minister for Planning, clarifying that the need for new retail development should be taken into account in assessing development proposals; and
the Government Response (May 2000) to the House of Commons Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee's report on "The Environmental Impact of Supermarket Competition" (19992000), which among other issues, clarified how the sequential approach should be used to assess new retail development.
The Town and Country Planning (Development Plans and Consultation)(Departures) Directions 1999 reduced the floorspace threshold under which local planning authorities are required to refer to the Secretary of State planning applications involving retail and other commercial uses, from 10,000 to 5,000 square metres.
Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if he will publish a list of shopping centre planning applications that have been called in by his Department and the former Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions since 1997. 
Mr. Byers: Since 1997, 30 shopping centre applications have been called in for the Secretary of State's determination. These are listed by region. For the purposes of the question shopping centres are developments involving 5,000 square metres or more of floorspace, including factory outlet centres. They do not include retail warehouse parks, individual freestanding retail warehouses, warehouse clubs or supermarkets.
|Date of call-in||Location of application|
|January 1998||Town Square Centre, Oldham, Greater Manchester|
|December 1999||Linkway, Bolton, Greater Manchester|
|September 2000||Ashton Road, Denton, Tameside, Greater Manchester|
|May 2001||Frontierland, Morecambe, Lancaster, Lancashire|
|June 1997||Backworth, Tyne and Wear|
|January 1999||Dalton Flatts, Murton, Easington, Co. Durham|
|March 1999||Red Quadrant, Metrocentre, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear|
|April 2001||Dalton Flatts, Murton, Easington, Co. Durham|
|Yorkshire and the Humber|
|May 2000||Gannex Mills, Elland, Halifax, West Yorkshire|
|April 2001||Castlegate/Piccadilly, York|
|January 1999||Arena Central, Birmingham|
|July 2000||Overross, Ross On Wye, Herefordshire|
|April 2000||Springfields Gardens, Spalding, Lincolnshire|
|May 2001||Springfield Business Park, Grantham, Lincolnshire|
|East of England|
|July 2001||Belvedere Road, Lowestoft, Suffolk|
|September 1998||Brent Cross, Hendon Way, London|
|October 1997||Broadmoor Farm, Saltash, Cornwall|
|October 1998||Victoria Park, Roche, Cornwall|
|July 1999||Flowers Brewery Site, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire|
|January 2000||Aldermeads, Wincanton, Somerset|
|October 2000||Symes Avenue, Bristol|
|May 1998||Bracknell Town Centre, Berkshire (two applications)|
|October 1998||Main Square, Camberley, Surrey (three applications)|
|March 1999||Bietigheim Way, Main Square, Camberley, Surrey|
|October 1999||Main Square/Park Street, Camberley, Surrey (two applications)|
|February 2001||Westgate Shopping Centre, Oxford|
18 Apr 2002 : Column 1092W
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