Examination of Witnesses (Questions 540-543)
LORD FALCONER OF THOROTON, MR PAUL HOUSTON AND MR STEPHEN STRINGER
TUESDAY 30 APRIL 2002
540. Is anybody pursuing that with the Commission, or has it been accepted that the ruling stands?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The English Cities Fund is not being pursued specifically with the Commission. We are approaching it from a different angle which is saying "Look at all the sorts of schemes that we are putting togetherheritage, dereliction, Non-speculative Gap Funding, Speculative Gap Funding, Assisted Areas and SMEs"but, no, we are not taking the English Cities Fund head-on with the European Commission. Instead, what we are doing is trying to build up this patchwork of notifications and acceptances which might widen the circumstances in which English Cities funding can be used. Nobody is with the Commission saying "The English Cities Fund, as a matter of principle, should be okay."
541. Another of these sorts of catchy phrases from Europe is "compensation for services for the general, economic interest". Are you trying to work that into your Planning Green Paper so that, perhaps, people could have an obligation under planning gain to do something about that?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) This is trying to place upon the developer a public service obligation and, thereby, get it into the exception to State Aid where the provision of the development is, as it were, a public service delivery obligation. That has been looked at. You have got some evidence from the DTI which suggested it was a difficult area. There was a recent case in the European Court of Justice that might provide some help in relation to it, but I am not aware of any detailed work going on in relation to it within the State Aid bit of government. Equally, it is not figuring at all, at the moment, in the Planning Green Paper, and the results of the consultation from that. It might well be worth looking at. The vibe I am getting is that it is not a very optimistic route.
542. It almost feels as though we are wading through miles and miles of deep mud with not much prospect of getting anywhere. Would you like to suggest some milestones we are going to achieve in the relatively near future?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The first milestone that I would like to achieve is, obviously, approval of the housing scheme, approval of the dereliction scheme and approval of the heritage scheme. I would like to see all those thing happen within the next six months. Secondly, I would like to see the development of the basis of a market failure approach so that we have got the basis of a regeneration framework to put to the Commission, but with a view to them putting their input in. It has to be a joint exercise with them in working out what is the right approach. Thirdly, I would like to see during the course of the next six months a series of meetings, both with the Commission and with other Member States, in which the market failure approach is developed with a view to getting a wider understanding across the community and within the Commission of what it is that we are trying to achieve. Some of those have got time limits to them but the critical delivery, to make this really happen, is the regeneration framework. All the advice I have sought gives me no indication as to when that might be achieved. I think the critical things is to indicate that we, as a Government, think this is a high priority and that we, as a Government, think this is urgent. Until the statistics disprove what the likes of Chris Brown or Tom Bloxham are saying, we think that we should approach it on the basis that there has been a considerable drop-off in the amount of schemes that are going on which would otherwise have been funded by PIP.
543. Do you think it would be useful for the Committee to ask you to come back in, say, six months' time to report progress?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Extremely helpful.
Chairman: On that note, thank you all very much for your evidence.