HC Deb 21 May 1982 vol 24 cc571-93

Order for Second Reading read.


The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Giles Shaw)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

On 9 December last the Secretary of State announced to the House his initiative on the derelict land scheme. From that time the scheme has taken a new direction. Grant priority is now being given to schemes in which public sector reclamation is immediately followed by private sector development, for industrial, commercial and other purposes, under an agreement reached beforehand between the authority and the developer concerned in each case. To advance the venture public expenditure on reclamation in 1982–83 was at the same time specially increased to £45 million. This is the "new look" derelict land scheme.

That scheme is now being followed by this "new look" legislation in the Bill. What the Bill chiefly does is to marshal into one slim statute, by repeal and re-enactment, the existing statutory provisions relating to the making of grants for the reclamation of derelict land in England. I shall not rehearse the old provisions that are now being replaced—they are set out at the beginning of the explanatory and financial memorandum. Suffice to say that in operating the "new look" scheme English local authorities and the Department of the Environment will, if Parliament so approves, be able to rely on one effective legislative measure that streamlines previous provisions made over the years with various, and sometimes slightly different, objectives. The bulk of clause 1 is devoted to achieving this.

Clause 1 also includes two quite new provisions. First, in section 117 of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 the Government introduced a new provision enabling the Secretary of State to pay grants towards expenditure incurred by the private sector and the nationalised industries in carrying out reclamation works, that is to say, without involving the local authorities in the process. The new provision prescribed the maximum rate for this grant at 50 per cent. The Government have since decided that the rate should be raised to 80 per cent. with the object of giving greater encouragement to those two sectors to carry out reclamation works with grant aid on their own account. That increase was announced in my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget speech, and subsection (5) fulfils that undertaking.

Hon. Members will have observed that the grant can be paid in two ways—clause 1(5)(a) relates to grants made on capital expenditure and clause 1(5)(b) to grants paid on costs incurred in borrowing money to finance a scheme. The latter reflects one of the earlier provisions but, as an option, the Government do not expect it to figure very much, if at all. The concentration will rightly be on the outright capital grants payable under paragraph (a). That is the first new feature. The second new feature is to be found in clause 1(7) coupled with subsection (8)(b).

Subsection (8) as a whole does two things. As part of the consolidation of the existing legislation it provides in paragraph (a) for the re-enactment of the power in section 8 of the Local Employment Act 1972 to designate areas as derelict land clearance areas for the sake of improving the economy of the area. That power has been exercised in the past by the Secretary of State for Industry and the intention is that he will continue to use that power as occasion requires by virtue of subsection (8)(a).

The new feature of the subsection is to be found in paragraph (b). The object here is to enable reclamation to be undertaken in areas where it is visibly needed, primarily for environmental reasons, but where the economic justification traditionally required for the re-enacted power in paragraph (a) is not forthcoming. I do not expect more than occasional use of that new power—which is secured by an order made with Treasury consent—because areas where derelict land grant is most needed lie by and large in the assisted areas and the derelict land clearance areas already designated.

Clause 3 embodies the last substantive provisions relating to England. In the 1980 Act we took a new power to grant aid reclamation for dealing with land which had either collapsed or was expected to collapse as a result of former underground mine workings—except, of course, for coal mining. We now wish to follow that up by giving local authorities a general power, as distinct from whatever particular powers they may have used from time to time, specifically picking up the 1980 grant-making conditions. This is achieved in subsection (1). It may surprise hon. Members to hear that the general power for local authorities to carry out derelict land reclamation works reposes in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, but that is the fact of the matter.

Clause 3(2) contains another minor provision. The power under section 89(5) of the 1949 Act to purchase land compulsorily for reclamation is thought to be restricted by section 6(3) of the Local Authorities (Land) Act 1963 to derelict land as such, and not to extend to non-derelict land required in connection with the reclamation, for example, as spreading land. It is common for compulsory purchase powers for the purpose of carrying out works to extend to nearby sites needed for working purposes. Clause 3(2) removes any doubt on this score in respect of the power in section 89(5).

I now turn to the Welsh Development Agency provision in clause 2. I have left this to this stage because the arrangements for derelict land reclamation in Wales are quite different from those in England. In Wales, as hon. Members know, reclamation is a main responsibility of the agency, which operates under its own Welsh Development Agency Act 1975. The law in England, broadly speaking, relates to powers that local authorities require to carry out works and to powers for the Government to make grants and to declare the areas in which grant can be made at various rates. I therefore felt it more helpful if I dealt with the English provisions in the Bill all at once.

Though it takes up quite some space in the Bill, clause 2 essentially consists of a formal transfer to the Welsh Development Agency of new powers given to the Secretary of State in the 1980 Act. It is now considered appropriate for these powers to rest with the agency so as to increase further the agency's ability to improve prospects for industrial development and employment by making the environment more attractive.

The powers are identical to those provided in that Act for the Secretary of State for the Environment to be exercised in England. In brief, they will enable grants to be paid by the agency, first, to any person instead of only to local authorities; secondly, where land has become or is likely to become derelict as a result of surface collapse due to underground mining operations, again excepting coal; thirdly, towards the cost of surveys to discover the extent of dereliction; and, finally, for infrastructure connected with development.

The transfer of these grant-making powers is achieved in clause 2 by the substitution of a new section 16 in the Act of 1975. I shall not enter upon the merits of the four provisions, as they were all argued during the course of the Local Government, Planning and Land Bill and accepted by Parliament as they now stand. I am sure that if hon. Members wish to raise points about them, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, who will reply to the debate, will be pleased to deal with them, and he will also attempt to answer questions relating to the other parts of the Bill that I have described.

In terms of size, the Bill is a modest one. Nevertheless, I hope that it will play a valuable part in helping to fulfil our commitment to bring derelict land into beneficial use. The House will be aware that the Government set great store by the recycling of urban derelict and unused land. A number of measures have been introduced, including the land register scheme. We believe that with this improved derelict land scheme we are making a genuine contribution to dealing with the question of derelict land. It will mean not only the removal of eyesores and the improvement of the environment, but, we hope, the bringing of new life, new jobs and new opportunities to areas hitherto classified as derelict.

I commend the Bill to the House.

9.44 am
Dr. David Clark (South Shields)

It is always a pleasure to speak on the subject of derelict land as I have taken a particular interest in it ever since I became a Member of the House. Indeed, 12 years ago I made my maiden speech on just this topic. At that time, I was living near South Yorkshire. I recall reading Sir Walter Scott's "Ivanhoe" and appreciating the very telling point illustrated by the opening words of that book. It begins: In that pleasant district of merry England which is watered by the river Don, there extended in ancient times a large forest, covering the greater part of the beautiful hills and valleys which lie between Sheffield and the pleasant town of Doncaster. That area is industrial South Yorkshire.

When I first related that passage to the topic under discussion today, I saw a great contrast. Now, however, when I travel through the same area every week on my, way North, I see a great change. There has been a marvellous improvement in the environment of many of our industrial areas in the past 12 years. Since 1970, Labour and Conservative Governments and local authorities have tackled the problem, and areas such as the one that I have mentioned are becoming very pleasant indeed.

If anyone needs further convincing, he should read the document on reclamation produced by Durham county council. County Durham has probably suffered more than any other county from mining dereliction. Living near there and seeing the changes that I have seen, I realise that the landscape has been transformed. Where once there were coal spoil heaps there are now golf courses, leisure areas and even dry ski slopes. This is vital to the regeneration of the northern industrial areas. We have suffered because we were at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution. We are determined to wipe away the environmental handicaps and the blight and to restore the natural beauty of the area which is so attractive and which we believe will be so attractive to industrialists in the future.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Liverpool, Wavertree)

I wholeheartedly agree that much derelict land from coal spoils and so on has been most artistically reclaimed. Nevertheless, according to the Civic Trust there are still 250,000 acres of dormant, derelict and vacant land, primarily within the conurbations, which it may not necessarily be appropriate to landscape into golf courses or parks but which should be used for urban regeneration—housing, flats, facilities for industrial uses, and so on. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the main thrust of the Bill should be towards regeneration of that kind rather than increasing the amount of leisure land, useful and pleasant though that may be?

Dr. Clark

I was coming to that, but perhaps I may digress a little now to take up the hon. Gentleman's point. He is quite right. I represent an urban area without a single field. I have referred to recreation areas, but land has also been improved for farming, afforestation and many other purposes. In many of the county areas we have brought back into production land that was not productive, but there is still great scope for improvement in the industrial areas.

I disagree slightly with the hon. Gentleman, however, as I believe that we should not forget that we need lungs in the conurbations. Not all cities are so well endowed with parks as London. One of the great attractions of most capital cities is the amount of open space, but many metropolitan areas do not have the advantage of areas such as the Town Moor in Newcastle or other well-known open spaces. Therefore, I believe that some derelict land should be used for aesthetic purposes as well as for providing homes and job opportunities, important though these are.

The Minister introduced the Bill in his usual plausible and convincing way, but certain provisions in the small print of the Bill are worrying and I hope that the Government will be able to reassure us about them. We make these points constructively because we want to see the Bill work. Labour Members want to see a greater clearance of dereliction because so much of it is to be found in our constituencies in the North, the North-West, Yorkshire and Wales, and also in parts of Scotland not covered by the Bill, where so much money is now spent and where there has been the transformation to which I have referred.

With these subtle changes, the Opposition are slightly concerned that much of the good work that has been taking place over the past 12 to 15 years will be dissipated and lost. That is not only our view. It is shared by certainly five county councils and by the Association of County Councils. I am not saying that they oppose the Bill but they have serious worries about which I hope assurances will be given.

The Government have been very good in their presentation of words on this subject. When it comes to action, their record has not been anywhere near as good. I should like to show what I mean. I have to substantiate an allegation of that nature. I believe that the Government, owing to financial constraints, have been inclined to try to delay programmes. I shall mention two programmes where money could have been obtained for nothing. The EEC had two non-quota schemes, one for former steel-making areas and one for former shipbuilding areas.

My constituency happens to be a former shipbuilding area. In August 1980 we submitted a detailed plan to the Government for a £500,000 scheme which would have improved the river front along the Tyne. We are still waiting for that to come through. I have seen the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Industry about it. Our Euro-MP has seen the Commissioner about it. No one has so far accepted responsibility for that improvement which, at no cost to the British taxpayer, could have had a major impact on a large industrial river. I should say, incidentally, that water pollution in the river is declining rapidly. There are salmon in the Tyne, including 20 to 30 pounders. What we need is that little extra in the form of cosmetics to make the situation even better. It is that sort of thing that makes us wary of the Government's intentions.

In the past two years there have been a number of changes in the arrangements and guidance given by the Department of the Environment. Part of this arises from the 1980 power, but great difficulties have been caused for those authorities that have been trying to implement the Act and improve schemes for reclamation. I was shattered to discover, if the information is correct, that no decisions have been given to any local authorities on submitted programmes for 1982–83. Here we are involved with programmes that need a considerable lead time, yet, one month into the next financial year, the Government will not give the go-ahead to detailed submissions made by the local authorities. One is bound to ask how intent and determined the Government are in following through this matter. We judge the Bill by the actions of the Government. I hope that the Minister can give me some good news.

Mr. Giles Shaw

I understand fully the two points the hon. Gentleman makes in the allegations, as he describes them, against the Government. I make two in reply. On the commitment to derelict land clearance, the Government, having increased the total amount to £45 million this year and having forecast an amount of £70 million next year, have shown clearly their commitment to derelict land clearance.

With regard to the fact that approval has not been given for what might be termed traditional derelict land clearance schemes this year, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the matter has now been cleared and that regional controllers in our Department are available to give local authorities advice and the result of the applications. I should like to make it clear that, of the £45 million being spent this year, about £29 million is being devoted to on-going traditional land clearance schemes to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.

Dr. Clark

I am partly reassured by what the Minister says, but I still stand by my point. If we are running good business, we must give local authorities sufficient advice. I am glad that the Minister agrees. I hope that this mix-up will not occur in the future if it can be avoided.

I have studied the figures. I understand the 20 per cent. increase this year. I am, however, a little perplexed by a matter upon which I hope the Minister will be able to elaborate. At Question Time on 21 April, the Secretary of State was challenged by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse). When my hon. Friend referred to the £70 million, the Secretary of State said that this was something different and had nothing to do with the £45 million. I understand from what the Minister has said today that the Secretary of State was talking about next year. We are therefore talking about a further increase next year from £45 million to £70 million.

Mr. Shaw

indicated assent.

Dr. Clark

That has clarified one point. However, it raises the other point about whether the Minister is happy with the extension of powers that the Bill seeks.

We welcome the extension. As the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) has already mentioned, there are areas, especially in the conurbations, where the definition of derelict land is widened by the Bill and where extra money is needed. I wonder whether the Minister can assure those authorities that have traditionally needed considerable sums of money for land reclamation. I am thinking principally of regions such as Wales, the North, the North-West, Yorkshire and the East and West Midlands, which take the largest amount of money. Is the Minister fairly confident that those regions will have available as much money in real terms in the next two or three years as in the past? If that is the case, it would be greatly reassuring not only to the counties but also to the Opposition. It will enable Labour Members in Committee to make judgments on the matter.

Another complaint that I receive from the counties is that there has been a stop-go approach over the past two years, as I think the Minister acknowledges. That has created considerable difficulty. There are problems over staffing. I was saddened to hear the Secretary of Slate again last week taking the opportunity to single out and knock Labour authorities for not reducing their staffing levels. In the Home Counties there are not the problems that one finds in Northumberland, Durham, Cumbria, Lancashire, West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire, and so on. I had thought that the Government were with us in trying to rebuild the Northern region and the other industrial regions. What we see is the Secretary of State almost encouraging councils to dispose of staff. As the Minister knows, in matters of land reclamation and dereliction in particular, there is need for a team of highly qualified and highly specialised and trained staff. It is sad to see pressure brought to bear for staff reductions if the intention is that we should go ahead with reclamation schemes that both sides of the House want.

Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn and Hatfield)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is no correlation between the regeneration of industrial areas and the need for a greater number of local government staff? Surely the correlation should be between industrial regeneration and private enterprise. That would be the most successful way of achieving the objectives.

Dr. Clark

I cannot entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. We hear that argument in my region, the North. We have to live in that area and we see the spoil heaps. It is not only a question of industrial regeneration. Why should such a beautiful area be blighted by private capital? That has caused the offence. I have no confidence that private capital will remedy the situation. In the past 20 years no Government have shared that view. Of course, there is a place for private capital, but we should not get carried away. Private capital can play only a small, if perhaps important, part in the scheme.

I began by saying that in the past 12 years there had been major improvements. That is to the credit of Governments of both parties because they have had an on-going scheme. That scheme has rested on the skill and expertise of local government staff. It is sad that Conservative Members—we went through this last Wednesday—should bash away again at local authority staff.

Northumberland, of course, has seen the light. It was Conservative controlled. The brief that I have was produced by a Conservative-controlled Northumberland county council. It was worried about its planning team. It is not only a question of Labour and Conservative. The problem is more acute now, because Labour-controlled areas have more problems.

Mr. Steen

It has been said that expertise in land reclamation does not necessarily belong to local authority employees. The beauty of bringing in private firms is that they are much cheaper, because a specific task can be contracted out. In that way, a permanent local authority infrastructure is not needed to carry out such jobs. The Bill involves increasing the amount of money that the private sector can get. There is no criticism of public authorities, but they have been appallingly slow. The Bill gives the private sector a further incentive by upping the grant—I am glad that the Minister is shaking his head in the right way—from 50 per cent. to 80 per cent. to encourage the constructive use of land. Therefore, the Bill is not knocking anyone; it merely brings in another sector.

Dr. Clark

I was about to deal with private land. I have great experience of this matter. In one constituency there was great opencast excavation of clay. It was carried out by private operators. It is on record that time and again I had to ask the Minister how we could get the private contractors to honour their obligations. I say unequivo-cally from the Dispatch Box that private industry has not served our cause well when it comes to the reclamation and reinstatment of opencast mining. If hon. Members want substantiation of that fact, they should talk to those hon. Members who come from West Durham. When the National Coal Board reinstates land it is done effectively and well. When private developers do it, most of them consistently avoid the planning regulations. On occasion, when everything has been taken out, the firm suddenly goes bankrupt, leaving a horrible scar on the surface. Therefore, there are major problems.

Mr. Giles Shaw

I remind the hon. Gentleman of the Town and Country Planning (Minerals) Act 1981, which insists on reclamation clauses being attached to planning permissions. We very much hope that that will reduce that type of problem.

Dr. Clark

I know that the Minister is aware of the problem, because such experiences were at their worst in his county. I hope that the 1981 Act will solve the problem.

The availability of grants to persons other than local authorities is more likely to hinder progress than to assist it. The whole thrust of my argument is that the present system of grants works well. It would be tragic if a well tried and efficient method of dealing with the problem, to the benefit of the public, was altered. I accept that the Minister has tried to do something that he thinks right. I suspect that he is under a bit of pressure from some of his Back Benchers, who want more private capital investment. However, we are risking a well-worked scheme.

I shall explain several grave worries that cause not only me but experts outside the House anxiety, because of the possibility of more private involvement in urban and other land reclamation. It was put to me that private schemes would be introduced only when they were linked to high value afteruse, such as the setting up of industries in our main urban and inner city areas. I can see a need for that, but it is important that a unique opportunity to reshape our landscape should not be lost because we have let Mammon take over again. When we rebuild, replan and redevelop our cities, we must ensure that there is as much opportunity for recreation and leisure as there is for house building and industry. It is feared that private money will be attracted only to the possibility of a higher after-use value.

My next worry is that there may be a reduction in the standard of reclamation. The standard could be reduced as a result of commercial pressure on finance. In addition, the private sector would not have the resevoir of experience that has been built up in the public sector. Some people may say that that does not apply, but the Secretary of State was concerned about that point in 1980, when he spoke about his Bill. I do not know whether he has found a way round it since then. On 6 February 1980, the Secretary of State said: We would of course want to see the present high standards of local authority reclamation maintained in any private or public sector schemes and we are looking into possible ways of ensuring this. We have received no news from the Department. It would be helpful to know whether the Secretary of State found a way of meeting his criteria. Indeed, I hope that the Minister will let us know whether the Department has found a way of ensuring that the private schemes are of the same high standard as the public schemes.

It has been pointed out to me that several authorities face an unwillingness by private landowners to sell derelict land. It will remain in an unsightly condition, with no certainty that reclamation will take place. That raises a difficulty. One of the big metropolitan authorities told me that often the only way to go ahead with a decent development scheme was to draw together several owners. There is mention of operating under a licensing system. That is the simplest and quickest way to involve the private sector. Local authorities have carried out the schemes on the basis of licence agreements negotiated with the private sector. The repayment of any after-value resulting from the schemes ensures for the Department of the Environment a return on profit as the private firms develop the land. That system already operates in some of our progressive metropolitan county areas.

Until recently, local authorities could obtain grant for schemes carried out in that way. Many schemes have been successfully completed where the local authority undertook the works on licence. However, recent Department of the Environment guidelines point out that land that is not in local authority ownership will not normally be eligible for grant. Therefore, we are saying that a scheme that has worked in many areas—in which progressive local authorities have worked with private operators—is unlikely to be available in future. The Department of the Environment should be encouraging local authorities and publicising the work of authorities such as the Tyne and Wear county council.

In a press notice released on 6 April this year the Minister said that he proposed to invite local authorities to work up investment programmes in co-operation with private interests, and to submit them. That is difficult to square with the Bill, but perhaps it is a Committee point. I am sure that the Minister wants to encourage private participation in the most effective way, but what is most effective in one area may not be effective in another.

Mr. Giles Shaw

It is important to understand the basic provisions of the Bill. The hon. Member is referring to the discrepancy in ownership and grant availability. In development land clearance areas the local authority is the prime recipient of grant aid and can claim 100 per cent. for clearance schemes. Under the Bill it will be open to the private sector, nationalised industries and other statutory undertakings to claim an 80 per cent. grant. The ownership is not material, although the claim for grant aid is.

Dr. Clark

I am not sure that the Minister has answered my point. The Tyne and Wear county council, for example, is worried that licence agreements will be precluded in future and, according to the Government's memorandum, will be allowed only in exceptional instances. That is serious and I hope that the Minister will consider it. If my interpretation is right I am sure that we will be able to reach an accommodation in Committee.

I have described some of the problems of privatisation. The Minister mentioned mining areas. Clause 1(2)(b) identifies "derelict, neglected or unsightly" land. That does not appear to include shafts and drift mine entrances other than those connected with coal mining. If that is so, grants will be paid for shaft filling and capping in an area of derelict land which is being reclaimed, but not for similar work to disused shafts associated with other forms of mining such as lead mining in the North Pennines and tin mining in Cornwall. Most such mines are not in derelict areas. Will the Minister consider the possibility of including filling and capping shafts and drift entrances to the workings of minerals other than coal?

We are worried about the way in which the Government intend to introduce private money. It may lead to underspending. We are not convinced that private industry, except in some major conurbations, will be prepared to take up the challenge and find the extra 20 per cent. Counties and the Government will put money aside which may not be used. We fear that private sector capital will be introduced in a way which may be right for certain parts of the country, but that most of the country will be disadvantaged by the scheme.

I am partly reassured by what the Minister has said, but we are anxious to ensure that we do not spread the butter more and more thinly. That would negate the whole 15-year bipartisan programme. In the past two or three years there have been growing financial constraints and an unwillingness by owners to sell to local authorities. It has been difficult for local authorities to maintain a significant rolling programme.

The principal need is not for a major change in legislation, but for a recommitment to the long-term strategy. Most derelict land is unlikely to be of interest to the private sector. If the environmentally underprivileged assisted areas are to be cleaned up, every assistance must be given to the local authorities. Together we have been successful in reclaiming derelict land. We do not want the Bill to be scuppered.

10.15 am
Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn and Hatfield)

One of the many legacies of the Norman conquest was the Domesday Book, an invaluable guide to our land use in the Middle Ages. Nine hundred years later we are faced with a contemporary Domesday Book—the land register, initiated by the Government and equally invaluable in identifying the land use of today.

The emotive word "wasteland" conjures up pictures of vast dereliction and decay. It is an equally appropriate word to use to encapsulate the purpose of the Bill, because the waste of land is what we are today seeking to overcome.

It should be noted that neither the Social Democratic Party nor the Liberal Party has seen fit to show any interest in this important subject, as the lack of attendance in the House today bears witness.

This great natural asset of land has been misused and abused in Britain with increasing frequency over recent decades. Now that vacant land lying dormant—far too often in public ownership—can be quantified, the opportunities for better husbandry are greatly increased. In recent years private surveys have identified more than 250,000 acres of such land in Britain. That is equivalent to an area the size of several new towns. To get an authoritative analysis and to act swiftly upon it by disposing of land held unnecessarily in the public sector is essential if we are to capitalise on this limited resource.

Much of the vacant land is clearly derelict, in the sense that it has been so damaged by industrial and other development and then abandoned that it is incapable of beneficial use without treatment. That is why the Bill should prove to be immensely important in achieving, the objective of reclaiming land.

As more and more urban land is revitalised, so it is to be hoped that more and more country land will be safeguarded from the ravages of development. No longer should it be necessary for metropolitan expansion when new internal opportunities are created.

Such an approach harks back to 1944, when Professor Abercrombie stated: There is a fundamental need for putting a limit on London's growth by accretion. A stretch of open country at the immediate edge of the building mass of the suburban area is imperative That view, which helped bring into existence the concept of the green belt, is as pertinent today as it ever was.

It is not sufficient to believe that designating a green belt is all that is necessary to safeguard good agricultural land or to conserve attractive countryside, which has been rightly identified as Government policy.

Mr. Steen

It is probably worth stating again that, according to Dr. Coleman of King's college, about 60,000 acres of good agricultural land have been lost each year over the past decade and that the urban sprawl is continuing. Will my hon. Friend say something about that?

Mr. Murphy

My hon. Friend rightly introduces that problem, which worries all Conservative Members. He has backed my argument.

Vigorous monitoring and enforcement of the green belt is essential at all times, for without it there is a great danger that the rural scene will continue to be defaced and derelict urban land will continue to lie dormant, thus ensuring the increasingly evident urban sprawl. The more effective the use that can be made of existing derelict town and city land, the less the outward pressures for urban expansion that will otherwise overtake rural areas. There can be little doubt that both town and country dwellers will be the beneficiaries of such an approach.

The Bill can do much to regenerate the land hoards in our already built-up zones and turn them almost into treasure trove. But let us not think of them as providing potential only in terms of bricks and mortar, concrete and tarmacadam. The ribbons of development have already run through fields and meadows, via riversides and forests, up hills and down dales. Might there not also be an opportunity for an inner city farm, a town wood, an urban market garden or a suburban copse? The end of dereliction could also be the start of some rural green among the urban grey.

10.21 am
Mr. Den Dover (Chorley)

I welcome the Bill because it clarifies some old legislation and brings it together, and it increases the grants available to private enterprise and other bodies in assisted areas from 50 per cent. to 80 per cent. However, there is still a difference between the percentages allowed to local authorities and private enterprise in assisted areas. It is now 100 per cent. as opposed to 80 per cent., and in other areas it is 50 per cent. for each.

I consider that private enterprise is much more efficient and cost-effective in carrying out any function, especially in getting land ready for development or in providing a better environment, than any public body. I hope that my hon. Friend will consider whether the 80 per cent. should be further increased to 100 per cent. or whether the 100 per cent. figure for local authorities should be reduced to 80 per cent., giving more incentive to private enterprise to enter this most important area.

The cost of improving the appearance of the land or of making it ready for development is not just the cost of reclamation or upgrading. Two factors are of paramount importance. The first is the value that local authorities put on the land in their books. Too many authorities have the land at a high historical cost, plus perhaps some allowance for inflation or interest. I submit that often the land in question has a negative value, because enormous costs are attached to making it useful.

Furthermore, local authorities should give more consideration in their planning procedures to allowing private enterprise to make good use of derelict land, especially in inner city areas. The cost of reclaiming and upgrading land is much smaller that the cost of development, and there is potential benefit to the community, to private enterprise and to the local authority in terms of the rates that it will receive.

It is important that the land in the land banks should be sold by auction to private enterprise or public bodies to realise its true market value. It should not be priced historically, which bears no relation to its true value in today's market. Local authorities must give enormous encouragement to private enterprise to develop land, not just to reclaim it, and planning officers and councillors must show much understanding to ensure that the best use is made of derelict land in our cities, towns and rural areas.

10.24 am
Mr. Anthony Steen (Liverpool, Wavertree)

I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Chorley (Mr. Dover) and for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) on two enlightened and interesting speeches, because they highlighted some important matters that the Bill hopes to remedy. My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield dealt with the serious problem of urban sprawl. We must not simply bypass that problem. It is increasing, and it is a serious indictment that 60,000 acres of good agricultural land are lost every year. Something must be done about it. The idea that one could have city farms or a copse in an urban jungle should not be passed over. It could revitalise areas of dereliction. Allotments could be provided for those living in high-rise flats.

Mr. Giles Shaw

If my hon. Friend had attended a committee meeting yesterday he would have heard me say that the amount of agricultural land taken for development has been steadily reducing from about 45,000 acres a year between 1965 and 1970 to about 23,000 acres between 1975 and 1980. I accept that much agricultural land is being taken out of agriculture, but not all of it—certainly not as much as my hon. Friend suggests—is taken for development purposes.

Mr. Steen

I am grateful for the intervention, which raises an important point. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has answered questions about that and his figures are not on all fours with those of the Department of the Environment. Another problem is that the Department of the Environment's answers tend to differ a little because they include forest land.

However, I suspect that neither set of figures is correct. No one knows how much good agricultural land is lost simply because there is no register for it. I wonder from where my hon. Friend gets his statistics. Is it merely an estimate by someone in his Department, or do local authorities submit returns stating any change of use of a piece of land? I suspect that there is no such register and it is pure surmise for my hon. Friend to say that the figures have declined. Dr. Coleman's figure of 60,000 acres in her second land utilisation study is more reliable. Even her figure is out of date, but at least she has analysed the change of use of land in Britain. Her figures are to be preferred unless my hon. Friend can produce evidence to show that there is a register on which he can rely. I suggest that the true figure is the larger, but, whether it is or not, an enormous amount of agricultural land is being lost when we still have urban land that could be reclaimed.

The Bill must be welcomed on that basis alone, but it must be viewed in the context of the Government's overall strategy towards urban renewal. A prerequisite of that demands putting idle city land to use quickly at a price that makes it profitable to develop. That is an essential ingredient in any strategy aimed at revitalising our inner city areas.

I said in my book "New Life for Old Cities", which was published last October, that releasing idle city land was the first task for the Government in order to reduce the number of acres of land lying idle. The Civic Trust estimates it at 250,000 acres, most of which is hoarded by public owners and nationalised industries. They are holding on to it in the hope that one day they will receive an artificially high price for it.

I drew attention to vacant privately owned land that is idle by public inaction because the planners refuse planning permission and thereby prevent the owners from developing it. The Bill will not compel public authorities to release the land that they hoard, although my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has established registers in city and local authorities whose purpose it is to identify such land. Having identified the land—in fact, we knew already where it was—the problem is how to sell it fast enough. Comparatively little land has been sold since the registers were set up.

If the Bill is to be made more effective, it should have a clause added to it that will compel local authorities and public undertakings to auction their surplus land to the highest bidder. Let market forces determine its value and not the local valuation officer, who is compelled to place an historical value on land which hardly ever bears any relation to what the market is prepared to pay for it. The market will pay only what it believes will make for a viable and profitable transaction and not what the district valuer believes it should fetch.

A further paradox is the willingness of the planner to see green field sites developed beyond city boundaries from which the city obtains no rate income. Good agricultural land is lost thereby because of the failure to insist on a rigid planning regime within a city's boundaries. The Bill will not help private developers to obtain planning permission more easily. If planners insist on rigid zoning, vacant, dormant and derelict sites within city boundaries are unlikely to be utilised, whatever grant the Government offer for the installation of infrastructure.

It is the planners' approach which has made areas of our cities deserted and, therefore, dangerous. Streets that are busy are safe streets. Streets that have people watching for space to walk on them are safe streets to walk along. Dangerous streets are those which are deserted, because no one has any reason to pass along them except during certain hours of the day. The development of inner city sites is needed for environmental and aesthetic reasons, but it is also needed to rebuild communities, to bring back people to the inner city areas and to make the streets within them safe once more.

The Bill seeks to attract more private development, and to do this it is offering a higher percentage of public money for the provision of infrastructure. That is to be welcomed. However, if the public sector is to obtain 100 per cent. of infrastructure costs by way of Government grant, why should the private sector receive a less substantial grant? Why should it be discriminated against? The increase from 50 per cent. to 80 per cent. must be welcomed, but why is it not more? I acknowledge that a step has been taken in the right direction, but I hope that the Government will consider amending the grant that will be payable to the private sector to increase it to 100 per cent. so that the private sector is on all fours with the public sector.

The development of vacant sites will create new jobs for unskilled and unemployed inner city workers, but equally important is the improvement that it will make to the rate base. That in turn will augment the city council's income, creating new prosperity and helping to bring back some of those who left the cities in the past decade.

There are vacant sites in the inner cities, but most vacant sites are in the outer city and not in the inner city or the middle city. The rural urban fringe has two-thirds of all vacant land. Inner city sites tend to be oddly shaped and small for development. It is the vast tracts of land on the rural-urban fringes where the Government's grant will be of the greatest use. When talking about derelict vacant land the House should be concerned with the two-thirds of it that lie on the outer city boundaries—it is that land which the Bill is concerned about—rather than the one-third which is contained in inner city areas.

Offering incentives for private developers to plough money into the revitalisation of dead land by increasing the grants that are available is a step in the right direction and must be seen as the right approach. It is an enlightened Government who tell private developers that they may bypass the local authority and go straight to the Department when they want infrastructure grant. That is the example of entrepreneurialism that I welcome in the Bill, but something further will have to be done if sites are to be developed on any scale. Cheap money must be made available so that developers have a real incentive to develop abandoned city sites. Extra incentives will be needed if sites are to be developed north of Northampton. There must be some reason for developers to go north rather than south, where the value of land is higher, as are the profits.

The Bill is a welcome addition to the Government's already extensive commitment to city regeneration. However, I am convinced that if more than merely a token of the 250,000 acres of dormant land is to be converted so that it may be used for constructive purposes a number of additional measures and steps must be taken contem-poraneously with the passing of the Bill if the thrust of the Bill is to be effective.

10.37 am
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I congratulate by hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) on his speech and on the work that he has done in this important area. He has been positively Messianic, and commendably so.

In Ealing there is a shortage of land for housing. The vacant land that remains is rapidly being taken up. Not far from Ealing there are many areas of dockland that are largely untouched. I shall fight the trend in outer city areas and inner city areas to cover available land with concrete. I saw the result of that trend when I lived in East London, and especially when I was a prospective parliamentary candidate. I saw Tower Hamlets covered with concrete. Children, old people and all other members of socity had to travel many miles to reach any grassland upon which they could recreate, sit or meet animal life.

That is a ruinous and miserable way of life and we cannot allow it to continue. Tower Hamlets—and East London generally—is within striking distance of the docks, and all the derelict land that is available could and should be built upon so that areas like the green parts of Ealing—it is still known as the queen of the suburbs because it had so many lovely green areas—are not ruined. It is being subjected to great pressure to accept industrial and housing development on its few remaining green spaces.

Mr. Steen

Is my hon. Friend aware that there are 14,139 acres of vacant, dormant and derelict land in the metropolitan area of Greater London?

Mr. Greenway

I am aware of that figure and it is the burden of my remarks. In some areas of London, football and other pitches have been used for building development. They have been taken from the community, though children and adults used them regularly. If we are to have a balanced way of life in urban areas, it is essential to retain areas that may be used for recreation.

We must have a much more imaginative approach. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree said, it is absurd that the historic value of land is charged, the price being calculated by valuers. The valuer's price is nearly always miles beyond the price that would be reached at an auction, which might be a satisfactory method of disposing of vacant land. I urge the Government to consider a radical approach to the disposal of such land.

Let it go to auction. That is better than having it lie idle, unsightly, unwanted and grotesque, while the countryside is rapidly disappearing. Every 10 years land of the acreage of Oxfordshire disappears under concrete, and the process is gaining momentum. If we are not careful we shall become a concrete jungle, with cattle standing on concrete, eating imported food.

Here is an opportunity to improve the way of life of urban people. I have taken children from the city to the countryside. At the age of 15 or 16 they may see a worm for the first time or exclaim "That is a bird!" They see pigeons in London, but not natural animal life. Observing animals is a good education for everyone.

The derelict land should be used also for city farms, where children can see life in the raw. We can learn about everything from sex to death from animals. All the crises that occur to humans occur to animals. People are more civilised if they learn to care for animals. We need grants to facilitate such projects. It would help to have 100 per cent. grants towards the infrastructure for reclaimed derelict land for local authorities and private enterprise. I agree that it is absurd to make a distinction between the two. The proposal is a big step forward, but we need to go much further.

Derelict land could be put to other uses to help the community and give a proper balance to the lives of those who are obliged to live in urban areas. Jungle playgrounds are tremendously successful for children. Derelict land can be converted for such purposes, but as long as it is so costly for the developer that will never happen. Great opportunities could be lost, and it would not cost the Government much to avoid that happening. The land is lying idle, but it could be put to excellent use with a little pressure, money and imagination.

In other countries cycle tracks are set up and go-karting areas are provided. The land could also be used for horse riding. Without much difficulty or expense a small area could be reclaimed and covered school and stabling erected. These facilities could be made available to people of all levels of ability and income, including the disabled, who would gain much, and of whom there is a preponderance in urban areas. East London has an enormously high number of disabled and deprived children, as has Liverpool, which I visited with the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts. They are all excellent children. All children are excellent if properly brought up.

We have a great and inexpensive opportunity to reclaim the land and put it to important and direct use for the community for homes and to make a complete and massive improvement in the lives of urban dwellers by offering access to balanced facilities, with a chance to see animals and follow other pursuits.

Mr. Murphy

I endorse everything that my hon. Friend says about people's lives in the East End. We were both candidates in Tower Hamlets and saw the terrible depression created by concrete. The Government must take on board his remarks in order to bring hope to the families in that and other areas.

Mr. Greenway

The tragedy of communities in East London and elsewhere is that their closest contact with animals is the meat that they buy from the butcher. Council restrictions forbid the keeping of dogs, cats, mice or other animals in flats, and animals cannot survive in the area. Those people's lives are deprived because they do not have the space for recreation and to "grow tall", as the Americans aptly put it.

10.46 am
Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath)

Land reclamation in Wales is a reminder of one of the most tragic happenings in Wales's history—the Aberfan disaster. Following the tragedy, my noble Friend Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, the then Secretary of State for Wales, set up the derelict land unit at the Welsh Office, which was the first of its kind in the United Kingdom.

Few hon. Members here today were present for the debate on the disaster on 26 October 1967, so I shall quote what my noble Friend said: One of the results of the disaster at Aberfan was to give a new stimulus also to the effort to clear up the land left derelict by industrial processes of the past, a problem of which everyone has long been uncomfortably aware, especially in the mining valleys of South Wales. The objective of this effort is not only to reclaim land now useless so that it may be available for industry or housing or other beneficial use, but also to make these areas more attractive to incoming industry and for those who live in them. To pursue this objective more effectively, shortly after the disaster I set up in the Welsh Office in Cardiff a derelict land unit to work closely with the local authorities in preparing schemes of rehabilitation and getting them carried out."—[Official Report, 26 October 1967; Vol. 751, c. 1911–2.] Since then land reclamation in Wales has continued to be regarded as a matter of first importance.

Because of our industrial past there is considerable derelict land. In South Wales the coal tips are the most frequent evidence of spoliation, while in North Wales the beauty of the environment is intruded upon by the slate tips. Other industrial wastage, such as that from the metallurgical industries, has also created problems in need of solution in various parts of Wales. That is the legacy to us in Wales of private enterprise, which has had so much attention in the speeches of Conservative Members.

In the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975, which was opposed by the Conservative Party, then in Opposition, the Labour Government raised the grant for land reclamation in Wales from 80 per cent. to 100 per cent. Since 1976, when the WDA became operative, it has met the cost of schemes to reclaim land made derelict by past industrial activity and put it to social and productive use. Under the powers of the 1975 Act, the projects were usually carried out by local authorities, having been submitted to and approved by the agency for inclusion in a continuing programme of work.

Two main priorities have motivated the agency in selecting schemes to support, and I hope that they will continue when the Bill becomes an Act. The first is the removal of risk to life and property. The second is to provide land for industry, for housing and other community needs, and for country parks, playing fields and open spaces. I should like the Minister to give an assurance that those established priorities will in no way be disturbed by the provisions of the Bill.

The WDA, as I said earlier, began its work in 1976. It inherited a very large programme of work to reclaim 1,721 acres of derelict land. By March 1981, that commitment had almost been discharged, at the cost of £17.2 million. During the years 1976, 1977 and 1978 the agency announced additional programmes of work to reclaim a further 4,000 acres of land, and the cost of that work has been estimated to be about £46 million. Under the WDA's direction, at least 108 individual schemes, involving the reclamation of 2,900 acres of land, will have been completed. We are aware, from the WDA's report of its first five years of work, that it has paid out £31.7 million to reimburse the costs incurred in land reclamation.

I have put the agency's record in land reclamation clearly before the House this morning because it is a formidable record of land reclamation in Wales, and also because it shows the extent of land dereliction in the Principality, and emphasises the importance put upon land reclamation in Wales.

In December last year the Secretary of State for the Environment announced that the sum available for the derelict land programme in England was to be increased from £40 million to £45 million. On 21 April this year, in reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Eastington (Mr. Dormand), the Secretary of State for the Environment said: The amount available to county and district councils for grant aided derelict land reclamation has been increased in 1982–83 to £45 million, an improvement of some 20 per cent. on last year."—[Official Report, 21 April 1982; Vol. 22 c. 247.] We welcome that improvement, and the fact that the Secretary of State now makes provision in the Bill to accomplish those undertakings. We welcome, too, the fact that in England there will be increased provision allocated to local authorities and to private concerns which may wish to apply for grant aid; but the position in Wales is a little different and gives cause for anxiety.

We are told that this year the Welsh Development Agency is to be allocated £10.4 million for land reclamation, which is exactly the same amount as last year. Therefore, it is a cutback in real terms. That is unfortunate, because I am advised that local authorities in Wales have made proposals to the agency which total more than £85 million. In my county of West Glamorgan, we have put forward schemes to the value of £14.6 million. They clearly underline the problem of derelict land in Wales, both in the south and in the north.

Under the provisions of the Bill, the percentage of grant aid available to private concerns in Wales, as in England, will be increased from 50 per cent. to 80 per cent., and we welcome that, but unless there is an increase in the resources of the Welsh Development Agency, Wales will be in a worse position in future than it was last year.

There is a further aspect of the matter which gives cause for concern among the local authorities. Any substantial demand from the private sector will, on the evidence that we have, reduce the amount of money available to local authorities.

It is because of those worries that are being expressed in Wales that I seek assurances from the Minister. First, will he assure the House that the WDA—which will be called upon, under the Bill, to make a larger financial commitment to land reclamation in Wales—will receive a greater allocation of money than has already been announced?

Secondly, will the Minister assure the House that the local authorities will not be disadvantaged in their applications because of the greater involvement of private concerns? We shall, of course, expect that local authorities will continue to receive 100 per cent. grants for land reclamation schemes, as hitherto.

Thirdly, where grants are made to private concerns for land reclamation, will those private concerns be required to pay to the Welsh Developmet Agency part of the enhanced value that the land attracts as a result of reclamation, as now happens with local authorities?

As my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) said in opening the debate, we do not intend to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill. However, the matters that he and I have raised are serious matters, particularly where they affect Wales, and we are determined to protect Wales. In giving the Bill a qualified welcome, we demonstrate our belief that this generation has a responsibility to succeeding generations not only to clear up the mess left to us from the past, but to enhance the environment and the life of these islands.

11.1 am

The Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Wyn Roberts)

It is clear that there is unanimity on both sides of the House about the desirability of reclaiming derelict land. It is equally clear that both sides recognise that the Bill is an additional step in assisting reclamation.

I shall answer the points raised in the debate in a moment, but first I should like to say a few words about the particular effect of the Bill in Wales, following the remarks of the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman).

As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment said in his opening speech, clause 2 makes an addition to the powers of the Welsh Development Agency. It also recasts the agency's land reclamation powers to bring them back into line with the powers exercised in England. I particularly want to stress, in answer to the points raised by the hon. Member for Neath, that we are introducing an improvement in the area of land reclamation in Wales. The WDA already has the power to pay 100 per cent. of the cost of local authority land reclamation schemes in all parts of Wales, and this power is not affected in any way by the Bill. In effect, the whole of Wales has been a derelict land clearance area, and this will remain the position when the Bill comes into force.

The additional power which is being given to the WDA is the ability to pay grants to individuals and to bodies in the private sector, as well as to other public bodies. Since 1980 this power has rested with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. We are now transferring it to the Welsh Development Agency and—as in England—raising the relevant level of grant to 80 per cent., so that all the reclamation powers in Wales will be in the hands of one body, the WDA. We believe that the private sector should be encouraged to play a part in the reclamation of derelict land in Wales, and the improvement in the powers of the WDA will help to bring this about.

I think it is fair to say that Wales has led the rest of the United Kingdom in land reclamation. As the hon. Member for Neath said, the derelict land unit in the Welsh Office was set up in 1966, after the tragedy of the Aberfan disaster, and in the 10 years of the unit's existence it reclaimed about 7,750 acres of land in Wales and made a significant start on the major areas of industrial and mining dereliction.

When the Welsh Development Agency was founded in 1976, the work of reclamation in Wales was handed over to it, and I believe that it is correct to say that this element in its work has not been the subject of partisan debate. We are all agreed that the agency has continued to do an excellent job. Between 1976 and 1979, over 2,000 acres were reclaimed in Wales. Since 1979, schemes have been approved to reclaim another 2,000 acres. An additional 2,750 acres are in the agency's programmes for the next few years.

The new power proposed in the Bill is a natural extension of the agency's land reclamation work. We do not for a moment anticipate that schemes from the private sector will take up more than a minority of the land reclamation carried out in Wales. Of course, the great bulk of the work done by the WDA will go on as before, but it is right that there should be scope for private sector bodies to receive grant assistance where the demand exists.

The local authority programmes will continue to form the great majority of the agency's work, and I assure the hon. Member that we are under no illusion about the amount of work which is still to be done, and which can only be done, under the local authorities' normal programmes. The bids from local authorities for inclusion in the WDA's latest reclamation programme added up to many times the amount which could be carried out with any imaginable level of resources that could be available. But this has always been the case. We have a choice of priorities, and my right hon. Friend and I rely upon the agency's advice on the work which needs to be done.

We do not know the level of demand which will be created in Wales by the new powers to aid schemes outside the local authority sector. When these schemes are submitted to the agency, they will have to be considered alongside other schemes in the normal local authority programmes, and the Secretary of State will take careful note of the agency's views on the priorities to be adopted, bearing in mind that schemes outside the local authority sector can be carried out at a lower total cost to public funds than local authority schemes which entail 100 per cent. funding. The effect of the new power can only be that more reclamation is carried out, and not less.

Mr. Coleman

Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear that private schemes involve not just private individuals, but statutory undertakings as well? Will he make it clear that this definition applies also to public corporations which are not involved in the local authorities?

Mr. Roberts

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. He knows as well as I do the extent of the agency's activities in this area. One has only to read its last annual report to see the authorities that have been involved.

The hon. Member said that the resources available for reclamation by the WDA in Wales had decreased. I point out to him that only a couple of months ago, on 3 March, the Secretary of State gave approval to a new £16 million WDA reclamation programme, to be carried out over coming years. Another 1,350 acres of land in Wales will be reclaimed and £2.8 million will be spent in the hon. Gentleman's own county of West Glamorgan, including a further £1½ million on the lower Swansea valley in the enterprise zone there.

Expenditure in Wales is being maintained at a very worthwhile level. Perhaps I should not say this with English Members present, but the WDA spent about £10 million on land reclamation in the last financial year and will spend more than £10½ million this year. It is nonsense to say that the budget is not being maintained. About one-fifth of the agency's grant-in-aid from the Government goes on land reclamation. We believe that that is a very fair proportion of the resources available to the WDA and it compares well with the record in the past.

I assure the hon. Member for Neath that the existing priorities for reclamation will remain. Safety will, of course, remain the overriding factor and resources will always be found to deal with genuine emergencies. I hope that he will accept that reclamation schemes for safety purposes in Wales have mostly been completed, but the priority will remain absolute when the need arises.

There has been a remarkable degree of unanimity in the debate and a general welcome for the Bill. If there has been a difference between the two sides of the House, it has related to the respective roles of local authorities and the private sector. Let me make it clear how the Government see the role of local authorities on the one hand and the private sector on the other.

Local authorities have, without question, a leading role, as they always have had, but the Government believe that the right way to achieve general economic regeneration is through the infusion of private sector investment into the economy, with the stimulus to regeneration that that will bring.

We have decided to make use in the derelict land scheme of the public lead that reclamation can give to the redevelopment of derelict and idle land. That is the general thrust of the WDA and the new look that is being given to the scheme in England. Priority is being given to schemes where local authority land reclamation, supported by 100 per cent. grants, leads at once to development by the private sector for industrial, commercial and other purposes, by a previous agreement with a developer. That is the way forward and it will give the scheme the most productive edge for helping in the drive for economic regeneration.

Much has been said about the Government's decision to raise the level of grant to be paid to the private sector, nationalised industries and other public bodies to encourage them to reclaim derelict land. We have carefully considered the appropriate rates of grant and we regard the present 50 per cent. to the private sector as too low. The proposed 80 per cent. should provide an incentive to the most economic use of public funds by ensuring that the private sector has a 20 per cent. stake in the cost of reclamation works. That is the answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen), who asked why we were not prepared to give 100 per cent. grants to the private sector.

Mr. Steen

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer on the injection of a bit of private money as well as public money. However, does he agree that after the Bill has been passed the issue to be tackled will be how to ensure the release of land in public ownership? Unless it is released at a price that developers can afford, even infrastructure grants will not enable them to make a profit.

The most pressing need is to write down the historic value of the derelict land of nationalised industries and local authorities—auctions will probably be the best way—so that it can be purchased by the private market. The 80 per cent. infrastructure grants will allow developers to get on with the construction.

Mr. Roberts

We want land in local authority ownership to be developed productively. The land registers show that about 62 per cent. of derelict land is in the possession of such authorities and we have powers to press them to dispose of that land under the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980.

I was asked about the quality of the work done and the schemes completed by the private sector. Before a grant is paid, reclamation work will have to be completed to the satisfaction of the Department of the Environment. The work will be inspected by one of the Department's professional officers to ensure that it has been carried out to a satisfactory standard. That applies also to the WDA.

As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said earlier, priority is being given in England to joint local authority-private sector schemes leading to immediate development. The programme, which will cost £45 million, could not be allocated until the Secretary of State had had an opportunity to consider the bids received for priority schemes. Allocations have now been made and are being notified to local authorities through the Department's regional offices.

The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) raised a number of matters, including disused mine shafts. Those can already be reclaimed under the normal rules, including capping. The hon. Gentleman also referred to the South Tyneside improvement scheme, which was put to the European regional development fund as a non-quota scheme. Such schemes rely on the Commission proposing ways of dealing with them and the Tyneside scheme will have to wait for a decision until the Commission has approved an overall measure for shipbuilding closure zones.

The Department of Industry is pressing for approval of the measure by the summer. Once approval is given, individual schemes such as that on Tyneside can be considered.

Dr. David Clark

The hon. Gentleman's reply about the South Tyneside reclamation scheme will cause great disappointment. The scheme has been ready for 18 months and I had a personal assurance from the Prime Minister that it would receive approval within a matter of weeks. Now we are told that it will be a matter of months. As I said earlier, we approve of the Government's intentions, but when we look at the record we have to doubt their commitment to carrying out those intentions.

We need clarification about the sums available for the system in ensuing years. We are to extend the areas eligible for grant. If there is not a great increase in the money available, the butter will have to be spread much more thinly and areas such as Wales and the Northern region will suffer badly. I had the impression from the Under-Secretary of State that this was to be increased to £70 million in 1983–84. That was my impression, and I was largely reassured by that.

I checked the statement made by the Secretary of State on 21 April. When he was challenged by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) about the £70 million, the right hon. Gentleman said: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I point out that the figures he mentioned"— the £70 million— relate to a different programme. The £70 million is the sum that I am earmarking for next year's programmes—a combination of derelict land and urban programmes."—[Official Report, 21 April 1982; Vol. 22, c. 248.] The House needs some reassurance about this and, indeed, an explanation. Are we talking about £70 million for this derelict land scheme, or about £70 million for a much wider scheme including the urban aid scheme which is in operation? If we are talking about the latter, how much of it are we devoting to derelict land schemes in future years?

Mr. Roberts

Let me deal first with the hon. Gentleman's question about delay over the Tyneside improvement scheme. He will recollect what I said about it. I do not think that he can blame the Government for the delay. As a non-quota scheme, it is clear that the delay is on the part of the Commission. We have been pressing the Commission to establish its scheme, and we are hoping to get the overall measure by the summer.

When the hon. Gentleman referred to the increase in spending from £45 million to £70 million in 1983–84 he quoted my right hon. Friend and of course my right hon. Friend was right. The hon. Gentleman was also right to question whether the money was simply for derelict land schemes. Of course it is not. As my right hon. Friend said, it is for rather more than derelict land clearance. However, the division has not yet been made. It will cover rather more than derelict land. Nevertheless, the increase from £45 million to £70 million is significant.

Mr. Greenway

My hon. Friend mentioned the level of spending. He said very little about the way in which the money was to be spent. What is spent and what is thrown up as a result of this valuable measure will be extremely important. May we be assured that my hon. Friend's Department and the Department of the Environment will watch the way in which the grants are used and try to see that a balance of restructuring comes between leisure and industrial and other forms of development?

Mr. Roberts

I assure my hon. Friend that each scheme to which grant is given will be examined very carefully at all stages of its progress.

In England, the Bill rationalises existing legislation on derelict land; that is to say, the relevant provisions of the Local Government Act 1966, the Local Employment Act 1972, both as amended by the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980, and the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. It also provides new powers for the Secretary of State.

In Wales, the Bill makes a number of changes in the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975 and expands the agency's powers.

I am glad that the measure has received a general welcome from all hon. Members who have contributed to the debate. Like my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).

  1. DERELICT LAND [MONEY] 172 words