HC Deb 05 November 1975 vol 899 cc391-3
15. Mr. Thorne

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether restrictions on spending are adversely affecting local authority slum clearance programmes for 1975–76–77.

Mr. Freeson

No restrictions have been imposed on local authority capital spending on slum clearance, nor on their house-building programmes.

Mr. Thorne

Will the Minister tell me why my local authority constantly offers the explanation that it is prevented from new house building by Government restrictions on this sphere of spending?

Mr. Freeson

I am not aware of any district representations from the local authority concerned. The point having been put to me, I shall make it my business to find out the grounds for any such statements. As far as as I am concerned, there are no such grounds.

Mrs. Knight

Does the Minister agree that it might make good financial sense at this time to issue advice to local authorities not to tie up any more land in inner city areas until the land they already own is utilised for house building? Is the Minister aware that vast tracts of land have ben standing vacant and useless for many years?

Mr. Freeson

I wish to see the reverse. I wish to see local authorities continuing to maintain a steady policy of the assembly of land and sites for construction purposes. However, if the hon. Lady will give me details of the sites causing her concern, I shall make it my business to probe the matter.

Mr. Heffer

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the Government's house-building programme. Will he now turn his attention to the difficulties of Merseyside, where 10,000 building workers are unemployed, 3,000 of them skilled workers? Is my hon. Friend aware that local authority modernisation programmes are being held back for various reasons, although they have had generous support? Will my hon. Friend re-examine this matter, help our local people to find employment and, at the same time, give decent homes to those who live in local authority houses built well before the war?

Mr. Freeson

The joint working party looking into social ownership and improvement policy is about to report. On the basis of that report we shall consider how best to allocate resources around the country. In the meantime, we are making available an additional £12 million over and above the budgeted figure for improvement work. I shall make it my business to get that money allocated to areas most in need of improvement works and capable of undertaking the use of the resources. As my hon. Friend knows from previous conversations, I am a little anxious about the position in Liverpool where there is a risk of underspending the present allocation. We are in touch with the local authority about that.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Will the Minister ensure that local authorities that have suffered a cutback in their programmes for improvements to pre-war council houses make proper use of houses standing empty—for example, for short-stay accommodation? I welcomed the Minister's visit to my constituency last Friday. If the local authorities will not use the many empty houses in my constituency, cannot they be passed on to housing associations?

Mr. Freeson

I see no reason why there should be large numbers of houses standing empty. There will always be a few properties standing empty at any one time, but if many houses are standing empty because it has been impossible to programme works over a period, there is something questionable about the management policies and practice leading to that. Those policies and practices need to be reviewed, and we shall do our best to encourage such a review.

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