HC Deb 11 January 1978 vol 941 cc1651-3
7. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the most up-to-date estimate of the amount of land taken into public ownership by use of the Community Land Act, broken down by economic planning regions.

Mr. Freeson

As the answer contains a number of figures I will, with permission, circulate it in the Official Report.

Mr. Canavan

As the British total for last year was only 2,000 acres, and the Scottish total 66 acres, does this not indicate that the Act has so far failed to bring about a radical and much-needed change in the ownership of land? As far too much land is still owned by speculators, exploiters and people whose ancestors stole it, and as their claim to land ownership in many cases is doubtful, to say the least, will my right hon. Friend draw up a complete register of land ownership as a first step towards extending the public ownership of all land, in the interests of the community?

Mr. Freeson

Whilst I am very much in favour, and will be pursuing the question, of better land management as a whole, I do not think that the setting up of such a register would be the first priority in moves to that end. My hon. Friend will appreciate that the community land scheme and the Act upon which it is based were designed in such a way as to allow for the cumulative build-up of action under the Act and not for some sudden takeover of all the land to which he has referred.

Mr. Michael Latham

Will the Minister confirm that the amount of acreage resold in the first year of the Act was 33 acres, and that the number of circulars and ministerial directions issued by the Government in that time total 111?

Mr. Freeson

I cannot confirm the precise figures, but I will, if necessary, write to the hon. Gentleman. On the main underlying point, I imagine that, whatever his views about the Act, the hon. Gentleman would not expect such a scheme to produce a balancing out of purchase and resale in the first 12 months of its operation. It is a cumulative scheme and is expected to operate in that way.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the bitter disappointment about the way in which this valuable Act has been watered down? The Opposition think that it has gone too far, but we do not think that it has gone far enough. Is he further aware that only 800 acres of housing land have been publicly acquired, half of which would have been bought by the councils in any case? May I therefore ask him to implement the original plan as conceived and put forward in our election manifesto?

Mr. Freeson

I can understand that my hon. Friend is anxious, as I am, to see the scheme operating as steadily and as rapidly as possible, but I have to tell him that he is mistaken if he thinks that the scheme is not operating as the Act requires.

Mr. Heseltine

Will the Minister also prepare a register of all the land in the cities already owned by local authorities and nationalised industries, in order that we may also see how much derelict and wasted land already in public ownership is adding to the blight of our urban areas?

Mr. Freeson

Certainly there is a problem in a number of city areas, and we are already taking action with regard to the first priority, the inner urban areas, where we are establishing the partnership and programme authorities. But I have to add that this is not simply a question of asking such authorities—and, one hopes, others later on—to look more carefully at the land holdings that they have; it is a question of looking at all of the derelict land and property in these areas, some of which is held by public bodies, including local authorities, and some by private owners.

Following is the information:

The amount of land acquired under the Community Land Scheme in 1976–77 in economic planning regions was as follows:

Economic Planning Region Acres
West Midland 380
East Midland 185
Yorkshire and Humberside 335
Northern 315
North West 150
South West 70
East Anglia 20
South East 135
Other land acquired and subject to Community Land Scheme rules 116
Total (England) 1,706

The comparable figures for Wales and Scotland are as follows:

Wales 406
Scotland (from 1st September 1976) 66
Total (Great Britain) 2,178

It is too early to provide figures for the current financial year.