HC Deb 25 July 1979 vol 971 cc584-6
8. Miss Fookes asked

the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will discuss with the local authority associations the measures he sees as necessary to secure the release of land for development.

Mr. King

We have already encouraged the market to bring land forward by stopping the community land scheme, announcing our intention to repeal the Community Land Act, and substantially reducing the incidence of development land tax. We have stopped the arrangement whereby public land is first offered to local authorities, and we are considering a register of public sector land holdings which would enable unnecessary holdings to be challenged. We envisage a continuing responsibility for local authorities in ensuring the availability of land for development. We have discussed and shall continue to discuss these various matters with the local authority associations as appropriate.

Miss Fookes

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Will he say what is the time scale for the register, knowing how long these things can take?

Mr. King

There is nothing to stop local authorities from instituting a register now. Indeed some have good records of their land holdings. Others, sadly—it is clear—have no idea of how much property they own. We hope to include a legislative requirement in a Bill which will be introduced in the House later this year.

Dr. Edmund Marshall

What discussions did the Secretary of State have with the local authority associations before his peremptory announcement on 13 June that the redundant lands procedure was to be ended? Why did he make the announcement on so important an item of public policy by means of a written answer rather than an oral statement in the House?

Mr. King

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should raise that point. The policy has been widely welcomed by the associations. It gets rid of an unnecesssary piece of bureaucracy that was slowing down the speed at which land disposal could take place and brings land into useful and effective use.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Does the Minister accept that one of the best ways of persuading people to put land on to the market is to impose a site value tax on that development land and land lying idle, something which the Labour Party included in its last manifesto? Will he confirm that joint schemes under the Community Land Act already entered into will be allowed to continue?

Mr. King

We have no proposals on the first item suggested by the hon. Gentleman. I do not think that that will come as a great surprise to him. On the second matter, we are faced with difficulties over the termination of this scheme. We are looking at each individual case and where legal and contractual obligations have already been entered into we shall obviously have to take them into account.

Mr. Costain

Does the Minister appreciate that when David Lloyd George suggested that there should be a land tax, he recognised that it would put up the cost of land? Does the Minister further appreciate that a quantity of this land is owned by hospital boards, Government Departments, the Defence Department, and so on? Will he make certain that they get some credit for their efforts if they release this land, as this will encourage them so to do?

Mr. King

Obviously, we would like there to be the maximum incentive for the statutory undertakers and for local authorities, to encourage them in the nationally valuable process of disposing of unused land. We are considering the ways in which we can give them the maximum encouragement in that respect.

Mr. Kaufman

Since the right hon. Gentleman, quite rightly, wishes to bring all available land into what he calls "useful and effective use", will he take action to prevent the Greater London Council from handing over its present housing land bank to private property speculators?

Mr. King

We seem to be getting slightly crossed wires. The right hon. Gentleman might like to direct his remarks to my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction.

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