HC Deb 23 April 1986 vol 96 cc297-8
18. Mr. Fallon

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many areas of publicly owned land in the northern region are currently unused or underdeveloped.

Mr. John Patten

On 1 April 1986 the registers of unused and underused publicly owned land in the northern region held 935 sites totalling 12,613 acres, which is far too much.

Mr. Fallon

Is that not an appalling waste of development potential in the north? Will my hon. Friend confirm that he will not hesitate to use his powers to compel local councils to release land that is urgently needed for better housing, jobs and commercial development?

Mr. Patten

Yes, Sir, we shall use those powers. We are doing so increasingly in places such as Darlington and Sunderland. It distresses me very much when local councillors come on delegations to the Department of the Environment to ask for more money, when they are doing so little with the land that councils own and occupy. I do not know what the Labour party's attitude is to derelict and unused land. It is probably as ambivalent as its attitude to the right to buy, so brilliantly summed up yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, when he said that the Labour party's attitude to buying was, "Yes, if you want to buy your council home you may, but if the council wants to stop you buying its council home, it can do that as well."

Mr. Eastham

In Manchester, a 23-acre prime site was sold off to private developers, changing hands three times and stood derelict for 15 years until finally the local authority had to buy it and develop it for the G-MEX exhibition hall. Is that the kind of thing the Minister would really applaud?

Mr. Patten

The G-MEX exhibition hall was funded with Government and European money, as the hon. Gentleman knows. Manchester is sitting on far too much land. It should be getting rid of it in the interests of its ratepayers.