HC Deb 17 February 1982 vol 18 cc269-70
5. Mr. Steen

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will advise local urban authorities to give priority to utilising existing vacant land within cities rather than develop green field sites.

The Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services (Mr. Tom King)

The Government have already given such advice to all local authorities in circular 22/80, which specifically advocates the priority of using existing sites within cities and towns. The registers of under-used public land, which are now being extended to the whole of England, should greatly help in this.

Mr. Steen

Will my right hon. Friend explain why 100, 000 acres of good agricultural land are being lost each year, according to his Department's information, when 250, 000 acres of vacant, dormant and derelict land in the principal urban areas are still unused?

Mr. King

It was precisely to tackle that problem that we introduced the registers. We have established in 33 districts registers of 21, 000 acres of under-used or unused publicly owned land. The first 500 acres have already been sold and a considerable amount more is coming forward for development.

Mr. Dobson

Does the Minister agree that whether houses are built on green field sites outside cities or on sites within cities, the number of starts is now at its lowest level, not since the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) became Prime Minister, but since she was born?

Mr. King

I shall not enter into the housing aspects of the matter which seem to have arisen on the previous question. I am sure that the whole House supports the need to use derelict sites in inner cities to avoid further encroachment into the countryside. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has sought to distract attention from that important matter.

Mr. Alan Clark

Does my right hon. Friend agree that areas of green land within city limits are important to the quality of life within cities and that to resist development on them is one of the duties of those who are responsible? I congratulate my right hon. Friend on refusing development in the Hardwick Farm area at Plympton, which is designated as an area of outstanding beauty, but I caution him that yet another attempt to develop that area is under way.

Mr. King

My hon. Friend will understand that I cannot comment on the second part of his question if there is to be an appeal to the Secretary of State. The suggestion about using inner city sites is not intended as an attack on existing open space—parks and other amenity areas—but it is no asset to any town to have derelict or rubbish sites in the middle of it. We want such sites to be given back a useful purpose.

Mr. Eastham

Is it not true that open spaces and derelict land patches in cities are often in private ownership? For example, in Manchester, the old Central station site, which covered 26 acres, was privately owned and stood vacant for 10 years.

Mr. King

The majority of publicly owned land on the survey is owned by local authorities, but a substantial amount is owned by nationalised industries. Our concern relates to our economic pressures, which make it difficult for private sector developers to afford to leave sites unused. However, sometimes those economic pressures are not so keenly felt in the public sector.

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