HC Deb 25 June 2002 vol 387 cc753-4W
Malcolm Bruce

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps have been taken by the Government since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 to(a) set goals on environmental protection and (b) improve eco-efficiency and resource productivity relating to land use issues; and what these (i) goals and (ii) improvements have been. [44344]

Mr. Meacher

We have put in place a range of planning guidance to promote a sustainable pattern of physical development and land and property use. Sound planning policies and an effective and efficient planning system are central to the Government's policies to improve eco-efficiency and resource productivity. Our policies concentrate the majority of new development within existing urban areas and in doing so help to reduce the need to travel and safeguard the countryside from unnecessary development. We have a target to provide 60 per cent. of additional dwellings on previously developed land by 2008 which, as a result of our policy changes. has been met.

Planning policy is also supported by a number of fiscal measures aimed at improving environmental outcomes; by encouraging better use of existing property to reduce new build, through a 150 per cent. tax credit for cleaning up contaminated land, and through taxes introduced on landfill in 1996, and on the quarrying of aggregates in 2002. Legislation to apply modern standards of conditions to old mineral workings was extended in 1995 to apply to all such sites, and tougher environmental tests before opencast coal sites can be opened or enlarged were introduced in 1999. Action, both statutory and voluntary, has commenced to limit or remove the more damaging existing planning permissions which threaten the integrity of the sites proposed or designated under the EU' s Natura 2000 network. This includes a major voluntary purchase by English Nature of the most important and vulnerable lowland peat bogs in England.

The Department and its agencies have a variety of mechanisms to protect and enhance the rural environment. These include nearly £1 billion for agri-environment schemes under the England Rural Development Programme, and further support by English Nature, the Countryside Agency and the Environment Agency. DEFRA also provides 75 per cent. of funding for national parks for the same purpose. These mechanisms are making a significant contribution to a number of the Government's PSA targets, including those to reverse the decline in farmland birds by 2020, and bring 95 per cent. of all nationally important wildlife sites into favourable condition by 2010. They also contribute to meeting the targets for maintaining/restoring priority habitats and species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan which was drawn up to meet commitments flowing from the Rio Earth Summit.