HC Deb 18 May 1977 vol 932 cc432-4
6. Mr. Arthur Jones

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the current capital value of (a) the commercial assets and (b) the industrial assets of the Commission for the New Towns.

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

Regular revaluation of the commercial and industrial assets of the Commission for the New Towns does not take place, but a provisional estimate by the Commission of their capital value is of the order of £100 million. This figure does not take account of reversionary values and should be treated with considerable reserve. The true figure is likely to be higher.

Mr. Jones

I recognise the Minister's carefully chosen words, but he will recognise that current values are substantially in excess of historic valuations. If my memory serves me right in regard to the resources available for inner city areas, the Secretary of State was prepared to consider the sale of new town assets. I see that the right hon. Gentleman assents to that remark. Is the Minister prepared to make a statement and to let us know what progress has been made in this respect?

Mr. Barnett

My right hon. Friend said that he was considering the matter, but the House must bear in mind that these assets appreciate in value and represent a sound investment of public money. Such consideration is taking place on that basis.

Mr. Newens

Will my hon. Friend assure the House that he has not lost sight of the fact that the Labour Party conference went on record in favour of the transfer not merely of housing assets but of industrial and commercial assets, subject to conditions to preserve the national investment, to appropriate local authorities? Will he give an assurance that we shall not regard the early wind-up of development corporations, the transfer of assets to the Commission, and, thereafter, their possible sale, as being of advantage in terms of local democracy?

Mr. Barnett

I know that my hon. Friend recognises that these assets have been financed by the Exchequer, and ultimately by the taxpayer. He will also know that my right hon. Friend has undertaken to examine whether in due course local authorities should be able to acquire these assets if they have the resources to manage them. Those matters are being carefully considered, but I am well aware of the Labour Party view and policy on this matter.

Mr. Sainsbury

Is the Minister aware that in the new towns there exist over 96 million sq. ft. of industrial space, over 12 million sq. ft. of office space, and 12½ million sq. ft. of shop space? Will he accept that the figure he gave the House is a gross underestimate of the current market value of that space, which amounts in total to 120 million sq. ft.? Does he not accept that the real value is more like £1,000 million? Therefore, will he obtain an early valuation of these assets?

Mr. Barnett

The hon. Gentleman is inviting me, as are other Conservative Members, to indulge in unnecessary expenditure. It would be an expensive job to undertake a full revaluation of assets. The purpose of revaluing them presumably is to sell them. That is not the Government's present intention. Therefore, I do not see the purpose in proposing it.

Mr. Corbett

Will my hon. Friend tell the Secretary of State for the Environment, if he needs telling, that it would be a classic example of muddle-headedness even to consider flogging off profit-making public enterprise in the new towns? Will he also consider the fact that if these industrial and commercial assets are to continue to be controlled by the Commission for the New Towns a directly elected element should be put into local committees, which as now appointed are accountable to nobody?

Mr. Barnett

I can only repeat that this is a sound investment of public money. In that respect I would be totally opposed to the sale of such sound investments.

On the other point, I am very well aware of demands for people in the new towns to have a full democratic say in the future of these assets. Obviously we are considering the way in which this might be achieved.

Mr. Speaker

Before I call the next Question, I wish to point out that a number of hon. Members have now come into the Chamber who did not hear my earlier appeal for brief questions and answers.