HC Deb 08 January 2004 vol 416 cc400-1
15. Colin Burgon (Elmet) (Lab)

What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of English Nature in protecting sites of special scientific interest. [146383]

The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael)

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 gave English Nature new powers to protect SSSIs from harm, and to concentrate funding on improving their condition through positive management. The Department is working with English Nature and others to increase the percentage of SSSI land in favourable condition. The first complete condition assessment of the 4,112 sites in England was published in full last month. I should add that 1 have seen the work of English Nature on my recent visits to national parks, and it is very impressive.

Colin Burgon

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but cannot agree with this classification of the work of English Nature. If I had to give it a mark for its 'work in my constituency, I would give it nul points. It gives us very little help in protecting SSSIs. We recently fought an opencast sand and gravel application between Methley and Allerton Bywater. If I were to write to the Minister, would he give me a considered reply that would help to illustrate the weakness of the approach adopted by English Nature?

Alun Michael

I should be happy to look at any specific issues that my hon. Friend wishes to raise. The Government's 95 per cent. target is a tough and challenging one, spread across a very large number of sites. However, I should be happy to look at specific examples, if my hon. Friend would like to write to me.