HC Deb 27 July 1977 vol 936 cc603-5
1. Mr. John Evans

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he remains satisfied with the operation of the Community Land Act.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Guy Barnett)

The scheme has made a satisfactory beginning. I look forward to its steady growth in bringing forward land where it is most needed.

Mr. Evans

Does my hon. Friend accept that if we are to regenerate the older conurbations it is essential that industry, particularly small industry, should be encouraged to move into such areas? Will my hon. Friend therefore ensure that the procedures of the Act are simplified to enable local authorities to dispose of land to industry more quickly than they can now?

Mr. Barnett

I am not aware of the difficulties to which my hon. Friend has referred. I accept completely what he has said about the need to regenerate the inner areas, and my Department is looking at the provisions of the Act to see how relevant they are to the problem.

Mr. MacKay

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, due to the Community Land Act, there is a desperate shortage of housing land for builders to purchase, and that, as a result, there will be increases in the price of houses that will cause suffering to the young first-time house buyers that he is trying to help and protect?

Mr. Barnett

I am aware of no such situation.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I welcome the use that has already been made of the Act, but will the Minister consider giving special permission for development areas such as Tyneside to make fuller use of it for industrial and well as housing development?

Mr. Barnett

Right from the start, we have been anxious not to use the Act as an instrument of regional policy. On the other hand, we are anxious to see the Act used within the regions, as far as it can be, for the benefit of better planning and in the service of better social objectives.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Is the Minister aware that in the spring of this year the Community Land Act nearly deprived my constituency of a desperately-needed industrial development with 80 jobs attached to it? Private industry is reluctant to build factories on leasehold land—even with a long lease—because it is not only more difficult but vastly more expensive. Will the Government there for consider amending the Act in that respect?

Mr. Barnett

In the case to which the hon. Lady has referred, the Act did not deprive her constituents of jobs. We try to operate the Act in an intelligent and sensitive manner, and that was precisely what we did on that occasion.

Mr. Rossi

May I assure the Minister that this is a growing problem, because it is Government policy to insist that local authorities dispose of industrial land only on 99-year leases? It is impossible for many industrialists to obtain finance for new factories on that basis. Will the Government look at this again?

With reference to an answer that the Minister gave just now, may I assure him that house builders are becoming desperate at the prospect of a land famine, which will lead to a housing shortage in many areas unless the Government take firm action to alter some features of the Act and to reduce the development land tax, which is far too high?

Mr. Barnett

That tax is a matter for the Chancellor. I am not aware of the position that the hon. Gentleman has described. No doubt he is aware that the Act makes it possible for local authorities to make land available for house building for owner-occupation. On the hon. Member's first point, I am not aware of such a growing problem, and, as I have already said to the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman), we try to operate the Act in an intelligent fashion. If a good case is made out, we are prepared to consider allowing longer leases, for example, when there are funding problems of the sort that the hon. Gentleman described.

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