HC Deb 28 July 1971 vol 822 cc559-61
17. Mr. Kenneth Clarke

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment which industrial cities have indicated to him that they are making efforts to clear their stock of derelict land in the next decade.

Mr. Peter Walker

The general target for the priority areas is 10 years. The individual local authorities concerned, including the industrial cities, have been asked to prepare and submit appropriate programmes. These are now awaited.

Mr. Clarke

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. In the light of the investigations he has made, is he satisfied that his declared aim of the clearance of derelict land within the next decade remains a realistic target, and will he continue to press local authorities to submit their plans and to make such a target their own so as to get rid of this blight?

Mr. Walker

On Friday I am going to Cumberland to discuss this matter. Next year we shall be spending twice as much on clearing derelict land as we did last year, and I believe that the 10-year target is attainable.

Mr. Bagier

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that some areas have bigger problems than others, particularly old coal mining areas where pit heaps have to be shifted, and that if the local authorities go in for large-scale plans, the 15 per cent. payable by them in development areas such as mine is still a fairly heavy drain on their finances?

Mr. Walker

Yes, I agree, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, County Durham is doing extremely well on this and is ambitious. Because of the rate support grant, the 85 per cent. frequently comes up to 91 per cent.

Mr. Crosland

I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman has taken over the 10-year target set by the previous Government. Will he tell the House whether the difficulties which were raised by Circular 2/70 in respect of clearing dereliction have now been resolved?

Mr. Walker

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising that point. The difficulties have certainly been resolved, and I have undertaken that next year clearance of derelict land will be in the key sector. There is no reason why local authorities should not go ahead with the most ambitious programme.

27. Mr. Dormand

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what proposals he has further to expedite the clearing of derelict land in England and Wales.

Mr. Peter Walker

I have organised conferences in the six counties most affected by derelict land and I have given local authorities in the priority areas the assurance that expenditure this year on expanding derelict land reclamation programmes will not be restricted by other demands on their resources. The response by the local authorities has been very encouraging.

Mr. Dormand

Although I believe that the Secretary of State has a general interest in this matter which is so important to those of us who live in the North-East, does he not agree, in spite of what he has said, that in the last 13 months there has been more talk than action? Does he not further agree that the new financial arrangements which the Government have introduced are tending to slow down the rate of clearance rather than accelerate it?

Mr. Walker

No, Sir; I do not agree with either point. The speed with which derelict land is being cleared is fast accelerating. There will be a substantial increase next year compared with this year, and this year there has been a substantial increase over last year. As to the effect of Circular 2/70, I am immediately informing the authorities concerned that if they are in any difficulties with derelict land as a result of it they should contact my Department. Many of them have done so and arrangements have been made, and as a result there has been no hold-up.

Mr. J. H. Osborn

Is it not a fact that much of this land is still in private hands? What steps can the Minister take to persuade others to develop assets which for too long have been written off?

Mr. Walker

We are happy to cooperate with local authorities on this problem. I see no reason why scheduled derelict land should not be cleared within this period.