HC Deb 20 April 1988 vol 131 cc819-20
4. Mr. Bowis

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many acres of underutilised land, handed over to the Property Services Agency by Government Departments for disposal, has not been sold after 12 months.

10. Mr. David Nicholson

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how much derelict land has been handed over to the Property Services Agency by Government Departments for disposal and has not been sold after 12 months.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Christopher Chope)

As at 31 December 1987 a total of 2,558 acres of surplus landed property sites which had been passed to the PSA for disposal remained unsold after 12 months.

Mr. Bowls

Am I right in thinking that most of the land is owned by the Ministry of Defence? Will my hon. Friend confirm that I would be right in having confidence in his being able, with his usual courtesy and irresistibility, to persuade the PSA to put its delicate feet on the accelerator and sell off its land so that it can be put to good use?

Mr. Chope

Almost all that land is surplus defence land. It represents less than 0.5 per cent. of the total defence estate of almost 700,000 acres. About 1,000 acres are agricultural and are subject to offer back to the former owners. That process takes longer than a straightforward sale.

I assure my hon. Friend that the Property Services Agency is selling the land rapidly—at the rate of over 2,200 acres per year for the past four years.

Mr. David Nicholson

Should not that programme have an even higher priority? Does my hon. Friend recognise the paradox and the frustration that I and several hon. Members feel when we see controversy over housing development in the green field sites in our constituencies, but whenever we travel, as I did recently, to the west midlands or the Greater Manchester conurbation, we see vast tracts of derelict and under-used land, which is owned by a variety of authorities?

Mr. Chope

I share my hon. Friend's frustration at the amount of under-used land that could be brought into development, especially when it could be brought into housing use. That is why the Government are giving a high priority to ensuring that they dispose of their own land quickly.

Mr. Steen

If my hon. Friend is, understandably, frustrated by the amount of land that is still on the register, will he explain why all Crown land is excluded from the register? Will he tell the House how many acres of vacant, derelict and dormant land in his own Department is not being used or put to good use?

Mr. Chope

Much of the land that we have been describing is on the register, although it belongs to the Crown. There is no legal obligation on the Crown to put land on the register, but, as a matter of practice, the Property Services Agency does include the land in the register.

Mr. McCartney

The Minister has stated the Government's commitment to dispose of derelict land and the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) commented on the vast tracts of land in Greater Manchester. Is it not a fact that in Greater Manchester Labour local authorities have one of the largest and the best programmes of derelict land reclamation in Europe? One difficulty that frustrates us is that the Government have not provided the additional resources to maintain the type of activity that promotes the regeneration of urban land in both the public and private sectors. If the Government make that commitment, will the Minister increase greatly the resources available to local authorities which have such programmes so that they can develop them, in conjunction with public and private enterprise?

Mr. Chope

The Government are aware of the problems in Manchester, which is why we have given extra priority and set up an urban development corporation there.