House of Commons Debates, Written Answers & Written Statements
Week Ending Friday 08 April 2011
Forestry Commission (Northumberland) – Click here for full transcript
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Robert Neill): The coalition Government are committed to enabling the abolition of regional strategies through the Localism Bill, in order to return decision-making powers in housing and planning to local authorities and the communities they serve.
I wish to inform the House that the Government have decided to carry out an environmental assessment of the revocation of the regional strategies.
I make it clear that the Government are undertaking this assessment on a voluntary basis. We consider that it would be useful to assess whether there are any significant environmental effects of revoking each regional strategy.
We intend to compile an environmental report for each region and to consult on it in line with the process laid down in the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004. Local authorities and others should find this helpful in identifying issues relevant to their areas and policies or initiatives in the regional strategies which are no longer in effect, and it should also help them decide how to proceed with preparing or reviewing their own plans.
This process of environmental assessment will be carried out during the passage of the Bill through Parliament. Subject to Royal Assent, the revocation of each individual regional strategy will be commenced after the assessment process has been completed.
Mr Bain: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs whether she has held meetings with the Deputy Prime Minister to discuss her Department's policy on the future of (a) the Forestry Commission and (b) Forestry Commission land. 
Mr Paice: I have had meetings with a number of ministerial colleagues on the future of the Forestry Commission and the public forest estate.
Neil Carmichael: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will estimate the number of woodlands and forest areas in the ownership of the Forestry Commission which do not have public access rights. 
Mr Paice: The public forest is owned by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and placed at the disposal of the Forestry Commissioners under section (3)1 of the Forestry Act 1967.
Statutory access on foot to the land in freehold ownership is protected under the provisions of the Countryside Rights of Way Act 2000 and in the New Forest under the Law of Property Act 1923. The freehold area that does not currently have statutory access protected amounts to less than 10,600 hectares. This comprises around 120 separate deeds.
Of the land in leasehold ownership 55,168 hectares have no legally protected access rights. This comprises around a further 570 separate deeds.
Mr Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs whether officials of her Department have discussed with European Commission the possibility of a UK derogation in respect of horse passport regulations. 
Mr Paice: Commission Regulation (EC) No 504/2008 allows member states to apply derogations concerning the identification of certain equidae living under wild or semi-wild conditions. In the UK this has been exercised in a number of areas in Wales, and in the New Forest and on Exmoor and Dartmoor in England.
Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will consider the merits of measures to prohibit the long-term tethering of horses. 
Mr Paice: I consider that the existing law already protects horses and other equidae against long-term tethering. Long-term tethering could constitute an offence under the Animal Welfare Act because it restricts a horse's ability to exercise, to find food and water or to escape from attacks by dogs or extremities of the weather.
In addition to the 2006 Act, DEFRA introduced a Code of Practice for the Welfare of Horses, Ponies, Donkeys and their Hybrids which includes advice on tethering, and it is one of the priority issues for secondary legislation under the 2006 Act. The code does not contain any offences but it could be used in court as evidence to support a case of poor horse welfare. A copy of the code can be downloaded from the DEFRA website at:
Mr Laurence Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will bring forward proposals to simplify the applications process for claiming funding under the Rural Development programme; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr Paice: I announced in my written ministerial statement on 28 February 2011, Official Report, columns 6-7WS, that responsibility for delivery of the socio-economic elements of the Rural Development programme for England will transfer from the eight existing Regional Development Agencies to DEFRA. As part of these transitional plans we shall be implementing a more nationally consistent approach to Programme delivery including the introduction of application processes which are simplified but also continue to ensure that programme delivery continues to comply with the EU regulations governing the programme. Work to deliver this outcome is currently in progress with the intention of being implemented at the earliest opportunity over the forthcoming year.
Debates 4 April 2011
6. Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD): What plans his Department has to establish trusts to assist communities in providing homes for local people. 
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Andrew Stunell): I thank my hon. Friend for his question and remind him that the Localism Bill, for which he and I served in Committee, contains provisions for the community right to build, which will allow community organisations to bring forward schemes for small-scale development, including housing, without needing to go through the traditional planning route. As he and I know, we hope to achieve Royal Assent for that at the end of the year.
Stephen Gilbert: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. One of the problems with housing supply is the availability of land, but the Government own vast tracts of land throughout the country, so has his Department given any consideration to bringing forward some public sector land to meet the housing crisis?
Andrew Stunell: I remind my hon. Friend that "The Plan for Growth" published last week by my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Chancellor set out plans for the release of more public land, and this Department is very strongly engaged in making sure that that leads to more housing.
12. Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): What steps his Department is taking to protect green spaces from development. 
The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Greg Clark): The coalition Government have moved fast to enable communities to protect their green spaces. Three measures stand out. The first is the end to the perverse classification of gardens as brownfield land, which has led to the destructive practice of garden grabbing. The second is the abolition of density targets so that developers have greater freedom to provide homes with gardens. The third is the introduction of neighbourhood plans, which will allow local people to safeguard green spaces and incorporate them into their vision of their community.
Mr Sheerman: Can the Minister therefore explain to me what on earth the Chancellor of the Exchequer was talking about in his Budget speech? One of the most important parts of the speech was on how he would free up the country to developers. Most people in Huddersfield now know that their green spaces-not green belt, but green spaces-are vulnerable to being built on.
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Greg Clark: Of course, they are not. At the moment, the regional strategies place a threat over communities, as the hon. Gentleman knows. He is a great localist, and he and I agree on this. I commend his blog to those on the Opposition Front Bench, who are chuntering away. There is a very persuasive piece on this matter under the title, "The party I love is a party of ideals. That's why I back David Miliband". It states:
"I've always wanted to be in a party rooted in our diverse communities...nourished and reinvigorated by the ideas and aspirations that stem from our grass roots."
We are giving the grass roots the right to determine the future of their green spaces, something for which I welcome his support.
Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Rural buffer zones and other planning designations protect areas such as my constituency from the westward expansion of Swindon. Does the Minister agree that, leaving aside the green belt, we have all kinds of ways in which to protect our countryside from excessive building?
Greg Clark: My hon. Friend is right that development must be sustainable and must not compromise the ability of future generations to enjoy the environment that we have. The Government's policy has always been clear in that regard.