HC Deb 22 January 1992 vol 202 cc298-300
4. Mr. Hardy

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will provide funds to ensure that there is adequate support for necessary environmental projects in the South Yorkshire coalfield area.

The Minister for the Environment and Countryside (Mr. David Trippier)

The Government are already making a major contribution to the area by providing substantial resources to clear away the dereliction, improve the environment and create the conditions for a strong and viable economy.

In the current financial year, we have provided Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham with more than £5 million from the Department's derelict land grant programme and over £1.5 million from the urban programme for environmental schemes. We have also awarded £14.9 million of city grant for three major development projects in the Dearne valley which will make significant contributions towards the improvement of the area.

Mr. Hardy

As the Minister knows, I have pressed for, and I greatly welcome, central support for the regeneration of this area. Is he aware that anxiety continues about that share of expenditure which is a local authority responsibility? Will he ensure that neither lack of RECHAR money nor excessive central pressure or excessive limitations on local spending will in any way imperil this desirable and necessary achievement?

Mr. Trippier

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the way in which he put that question. As he knows, I have specific responsibility for the Dearne valley. I am anxious to do whatever I can to help to regenerate the area—as I know he is. We have made a number of representations to Commissioner Millan on this subject, particularly with regard to the RECHAR programme. We cannot for the life of us understand why the money cannot be released under the present terms and conditions. Somebody has to say that, and I am saying it now. Discussions will continue between the Government and the European Commission on this specific item. I hope that we can find a way to solve the problem.

Mr. Batiste

Is not it clear that the problem with the RECHAR programme is that Commissioner Millan has unilaterally changed the rules on additionality and his interpretation of them and that he now proposes to act in a quite different way from the way in which all his predecessors have behaved? Is not it time that this matter was settled by agreement or referred to the European Court?

Mr. Trippier

It is for that precise reason that I chose to answer the substantive question in the way that I did. I believe that Commissioner Millan has changed the rules unilaterally. I resent that. It means that this money is not available. The terms and conditions that are attached to programmes such as this have been in existence for a long time. The fact that there are people in the Dearne valley who are frustrated by this change of direction by Commissioner Millan is a disgrace.

Mr. Allen McKay

In the case of the RECHAR programme, is not it a question of additionality? Although other countries have agreed with Bruce Millan on additionality, is not it a fact that this country's Treasury will not agree to it?

Mr. Trippier

The difficulty is that whether or not the issue of additionality is resolved in the near future does not alter the fact that the terms and conditions attached to such assistance from the European regional development fund or any other form of European support have existed for a long time. The local authorities in the Dearne valley have explained that they are frustrated because the money cannot be released. I am saying that it can be released if Commissioner Millan accepts and agrees to it.

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