HC Deb 08 December 1971 vol 827 cc1287-9
25. Mr. Rost

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what action he is proposing to prevent the continued upward trend of land prices for house building; and whether he will make more suitable land available to help ease the shortage.

Mr. Graham Page

There are substantial regions of the country where the supply of land is adequate for house building but, in certain areas, the upsurge in the demand for housing has accentuated the shortage of land and has caused exceptional rises in prices.

The supply of land for house building is a responsibility of local authorities. Within the guidelines of Circular 10/70 local authorities have sold off land for private house building, have released land from planning restrictions and have planned comprehensive development schemes. The Government have altered the arrangements for loan sanctions and have in action working parties on land surplus to defence requirements, on forms of partnership between local authorities and private enterprise, and, with local planning authorities and developers in the regions, to identify land suitable for housing. Major areas for long-term development have been set out in an approved strategy in the South-East Region and my right hon. Friend will have the strategy very much in mind in exercising his planning responsibilities.

Mr. Rost

As the price of building land is rising because we now have a Government who are building houses again, would not my hon. Friend consider urging nationalised industries, local authorities and Government Departments to release suitable building land more speedily, rather than reluctantly in dribs and drabs so that the supply can be improved?

Mr. Page

Yes, Sir. We are, indeed, doing so.

Mr. Crosland

Does not the hon. Gentleman recall that, when the Government so precipitately abolished the Land Commission, in an orgy of self-congratulation, they promised the House and the country that this action would reduce the rises in the price of land at once and dramatically? Is he aware that, for all that the Government purport to be in favour of owner-occupation, the current rate of rise in the price of land is pricing houses out of the reach of a large section of the population? Does the hon. Gentleman have no policy of any kind except a lot of committees and a lot of exhortation?

Mr. Page

There has recently been an upsurge in demand for houses and an upsurge in building. Therefore, there is bound to be shortage in certain areas. But this does not apply throughout the whole country.

Mr. James Hill

Would not my hon. Friend agree that, particularly in Hampshire, long-term area planning is one of the reasons why so much land has become sterilised? Will he take steps immediately to work in conjunction with the South Hampshire Planning Committee to release further land?

Mr. Page

Those who complain that local planning authorities are creating a shortage of land by refusing permission to developers have not identified to me land where development has been refused. They have a right to complain to my right hon. Friend, and the point of setting up the working parties in the regions is to try to identify where there is shortage through local planning authorities having refused planning permission. I have not been told where this is so.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Is it not a fact that, since all controls have been removed, prices are at an all-time record? Is it not a fact also that the G.L.C. average flat now costs £1,800 for the land alone before a single brick is laid, which means £1.65 a week on the rent? Does not this mean that some form of public ownership of land will be necessary to deal with this problem?

Mr. Page

The form of public ownership devised by the last Government only sent land prices higher. It can be said that over the last two decades the price of land was at an all-time record at any particular time.

Mr. Crosland

We have heard a lot of verbiage from the hon. Gentleman today, but is it not the plain fact that the price of land in the last year has risen at a record rate? Does not this mean that the pledge given by the Government to the country when the Land Commission was abolished has turned out to be a complete deception?

Mr. Page

The promises made by the previous Government were a complete deception because, when setting up the Land Commission, they said that it was for the purpose of reducing the price of land. Under this Government, the increase in the building industry over the past few months has created a shortage of land in certain areas, and the result of the shortage is, of course, to increase the price within those areas. But this does not apply throughout the whole country.