HC Deb 21 May 1986 vol 98 cc351-3
9. Mr. Andrew MacKay

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is satisfied with the rate of disposal of building land in the inner cities by public bodies.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

No, but I believe that better progress is being made since we set up the registers of unused land. Some 38,000 acres have gone from the registers, including since 1984, 4,400 acres of inner city derelict land.

Mr. MacKay

During my right hon. Friend's all too short but positive stewardship in the Department of the Environment, may I ask whether he has seen enough to agree that it is disappointing that more public sector land has not been sold for housing in the inner cities? Does he agree that one of the many reasons for that is that there is not much incentive for builders to build in the inner cities when they are able to build on green field sites in my constituency and elsewhere?

Mr. Baker

I have issued 107 notices to dispose of surplus land and 25 directions were issued following those. It is disappointing that there are still substantial quantities of unused derelict land in the inner cities, especially in the north. It serves no one's purpose to leave that land derelict. One of the ways in which we can abate the development pressures in the sort of area that my hon. Friend represents is by bringing as much as possible of that land back into active use.

Mr. Winnick

Some of this building land could undoubtedly be used by local authorities to supply the accommodation so desperately required by people who have no accommodation at all. Why does the Minister not recognise this? Is he aware that if the rumours are true he is to be replaced by the present Minister of Transport, a noted Right-wing fanatic? If that is true, those who are in desperate need of housing can give up all hope.

Mr. Baker

Quite a lot of this derelict land is owned by local authorities, and nearly all of it is owned by statutory authorities. It is a matter of motivating them to dispose of it to bring development forward. Two grants are available, the derelict land grant, which we have increased to £90 million a year, and the urban development grant, which we have increased to £25 million a year. I wish it were possible to educate certain councils to get on with the business of disposing of that land.

Mr. Gow

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the dissatisfaction that he has expressed about the rate of progress in selling unused land now on the land registers is shared by those on the Benches behind him? Is he further aware that there is a widespread belief on the Tory Benches that it is wrong, morally, socially and economically, for public bodies to hold on to land for which they have no operational requirement, either today or tomorrow? Will my right hon. Friend urgently consider taking further and specific powers to secure the release of unused land so that it can be put to better use by others?

Mr. Baker

I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. He asked about extra powers. We are using the powers available to the Secretary of State for the Environment, but more has to be done. It is morally indefensible to allow land to lie vacant when it could be used for industrial development and for houses.

Dr. Cunningham

Is not this problem just a symptom of the Government's abysmal failure on inner city policy in general? By systematically removing financial resources from those authorities which were trying to deal with these problems they have created a situation in which local authorities cannot use the land because they have no money. They do not want to sell it because if they need land later it would cost them a lot more to buy it back. In addition, because the problems of the inner cities are getting worse, land in the hands of private developers is also lying idle because people will not invest until the Government and local authorities start tackling the problems with more vigour.

Mr. Baker

I reject completely the criticism of the stewardship of myself and my predecessors in relation to the inner cities. I remind the hon. Gentleman of the figures that I gave earlier of the proportionately greater amount of money that is provided under the rate support grant system to the towns and cities of the north, of the way in which we have trebled the amount of support through the urban programme to the towns and cities, and of the triumphant success of the greatest reclamation of any inner city area in the world—London docklands.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

What incentive is there for responsible Conservative-controlled authorities, such as the borough of Macclesfield, to sell land that is surplus to their requirements if they are then unable to spend that money on the sorts of desirable projects that are in the best interests of the people of the area—such as housing for the elderly, young marrieds and single people—because of the limits on the spending of capital receipts? How can my right hon. Friend urge his policy upon such a council when it is against the best interests of that council as it cannot spend the money when it has sold the land?

Mr. Baker

The amount of cash that is received by local authorities on selling the land remains theirs, and they can use it either to redeem debts—and some £2 billion has been used to do so—or there is a system of cumulative borrowing powers under the capital control system.

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