HC Deb 10 May 1978 vol 949 cc1162-3
3. Mr. Tim Renton

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what acreage of building land was released in 1977, and what is his estimate of the amount to be released in 1978 by local authorities in England from acquisitions made as a result of the Community Land Act.

Mr. Guy Barnett

A firm figure for 1977–78 is not yet available. It is not practicable to form a realistic estimate for 1978–79.

Mr. Renton

Is it not a fact that only 33 acres were released for housing in 1976–77, whereas in that year local authorities' administrative and staffing costs charged to the community land account amounted to £3,500,000? This works out at over £100,000 per acre released. Is not that the most appalling waste of ratepayers' money in pursuit of doctrinal Socialist aims?

Mr. Barnett

No. If the hon. Gentleman had any knowledge of running a large scheme or undertaking he would recognise that in order to operate it costs of the kind that he has described would have to be incurred at the start, in the expectation of the growth of the scheme later.

Mr. Hardy

Cannot my hon. Friend detect an element of ambiguity in the fact that some Conservative Members ardently echo the very proper demand that countryside land should be retained and the next moment appear to be demanding that the same land should be developed as rapidly as possible?

Mr. Barnett

There could be ambiguity. In the constituency of the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) there may be a shortage of land. I was interested to learn that the council of that authority is considering the possibility of the acquisition of land for housing under the community land scheme.

Mr. Stephen Ross

In this area, does the Minister notice the comparative success of the Welsh Land Board? Does he think that there is an example there that could be applied to England? Could not he amend the Community Land Act to let it apply in a regional context? He might achieve more success in that way.

Mr. Barnett

No, I think that it was quite right, in the English context, to use the local authorities as the instruments for the Community Land Act and to set up the land acquisition and management schemes which ensured co-operation between the two levels of local government. That was right in view of the English local authorities' responsibilities for structure and local planning.