HC Deb 23 November 1983 vol 49 cc316-7
16. Mr. Heddle

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is satisfied with the rate of disposal by public authorities of land on the land registers.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

No, Sir, I am not satisfied. While many public bodies are doing well, some are not. I intend to step up the pressure and will, where necessary, use my powers to direct a disposal.

Mr. Heddle

I welcome my right hon. Friend's answer. Does he agree that many Labour-controlled authorities are, regrettably, sitting on urban land, inner-city land, which builders would like to be released to enable them to build homes for first-time buyers? Will he take urgent steps to implement the powers given to him under section 98 of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act to enable those local authorities to release the land forthwith?

Mr. Jenkin

I entirely accept the premise of my hon. Friend's question. When attention is drawn to a piece of land that is in the possession of the local authority it has always proved possible so far to persuade the local authority to sell, rather than to use my powers. I have made it clear, and I make it clear again today, that if there is unreasonable delay I shall not hesitate to use those powers.

Mr. Freeson

Is it not true that the building industry's organisations have made it clear, both privately and publicly, that most of the land that is publicly owned and on the register is not suitable for most development, including large-scale housing development, and that one of the main reasons is that large areas of the land do not have infrastructure services? Does the Secretary of State accept that the only way to get most of the land into use is for the Government to provide more capital to local authorities, and thus get the sites serviced and possibly made available for housing and other purposes?

Mr. Jenkin

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows that large parts of the land are not suitable for housing in large quantities. About 10,000 acres that have been identified as suitable for housing are in the possession of public authorities, and another 10,000 acres may be suitable if planning permission were available. We are concerned to ensure that that land, most of which is in inner-city areas, is made available and we are prepared to help the housing industry to acquire the land wherever possible.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

Will my right hon. Friend instruct the London boroughs and the metropolitan districts to enter on the registers publicly owned land that is less than an acre in area?

Mr. Jenkin

At the moment the registers do not include land of less than an acre. It is a question whether the additional administration that would be involved in registering smaller areas would be commensurate with the advantage that would be given. However, I assure my hon. Friend that I have the matter in mind.