HC Deb 06 December 1978 vol 959 cc1411-3
14. Mr. Newens

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on his plans for the ownership and control of industrial and commercial assets in the new towns after the winding up of development corporations.

Mr. Guy Barnett

It remains Government policy that the Commission for the New Towns will own and manage these assets. I am still considering the terms and conditions under which local authorities could acquire some of these assets.

Mr. Newens

Is my hon. Friend aware that many people are worried that the transfer of control over industrial and commercial assets from a locally based new town development corporation to a national authority such as the Commission for the New Towns might diminish local influence and add to bureaucracy? Should not our ultimate aim still be the original one proposed by those of us who are connected with the new towns movement, namely to transfer the assets to the control of the local authority after the development corporations have been wound up?

Mr. Barnett

I should make it clear that the Commission for the New Towns has undertaken to ensure that a large measure of responsibility rests with the local manager in each town or group of towns. Consultations are now taking place between members of the Commission and individual local authorities which are reaching their wind-up date or where the new town corporation has already been dissolved. The consultations are based on finding the right consultative arrangements between the local authority and the local manager of those assets.

We recognise that such consultations might have to be at both officer and member level. My hon. Friend can rest assured that we wish the local authorities to have the maximum say in the way in which these assets are managed.

My hon. Friend also asked whether the assets might one day come into the ownership of the local authorities. He knows our views about that. As these are taxpayers' assets, we believe that it would not be right or fair to other towns to transfer assets to those towns which were new towns. On the other hand, we have made it clear that we want to make it possible for those local authorities that wish to take over these assets, and can afford to do so, to do that later.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must not enter into long arguments. I shall call one more hon. Member to ask a supplementary question and then I shall move on.

Mr. Michael Morris

Why does the Minister not simply sell off those assets and save some public money for once?

Mr. Barnett

Because I think that we have a better regard for the public interest than the hon. Member.