HC Deb 25 July 1990 vol 177 cc450-1
5. Mr. Ashby

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what measures he is considering to accelerate the removal of unused land from the land register.

18. Mr. Alison

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what measures he is considering to accelerate the removal of derelict land from the land register.

Mr. Michael Spicer

We are considering various possibilities. Any firm proposals would be the subject of public consultation.

Mr. Ashby

Is not it a scandal that so much public land in our towns and cities is lying idle? Will my hon. Friend take urgent steps to ensure that that land is sold off to the private sector, which knows how to put it into good and productive use?

Mr. Spicer

I listen carefully to what my hon. Friend has to say on the matter. He is right that a great amount of vacant land is held in the public sector. There are at least 80,000 acres on the register, and there are questions as to whether that accurately reflects the total amount of vacant land. We are looking urgently and seriously at that matter.

Mr. Alison

Given that plenty of land is still on the register, will my hon. Friend undertake to call in proposals to develop a substantial small new town with new housing on Acaster Malbis airfield near York, in my constituency, given that that development is unrelated to any present settlements and is in conflict with the local structure and the local plan?

Mr. Spicer

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will understand that I cannot comment on specific applications. When we have further information about the plans in his constituency, and in particular about the local planning authority's view, we shall be able to take a view about calling in.

Mr. Winnick

In so far as this building land is for housing, will the Minister bear it in mind that the majority of people who are in desperate housing need, and others who sympathise with them, believe that local authorities should once again be in a position to build? Is the Minister aware that a recent survey published by the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux shows the failure, arising from the Housing Act 1988, of the private rented sector to provide accommodation for people with ordinary incomes? Does not that demonstrate that those who cannot afford a mortgage should be able to have decent accommodation without having to live with their families or their in-laws, or in bed-and-breakfast accommodation?

Mr. Spicer

The problems of the private rented sector have nothing to do with the 1988 Act. That Act has started the process of putting them right. The problems have more to do with the denigration of private landlords, which has gone on, largely led by the Labour party, over many years. That is very much in contrast with what happens in most other industrialised countries.

Mr. Pike

The Minister will recognise that much of the derelict and unused land is contaminated. Do the Government intend to respond to the report on contaminated land by the Select Committee on the Environment, which said that that is a major problem in many of the older and industrial towns?

Mr. Spicer

We are reviewing policy on contaminated land, but already £70 million of derelict land grant is available for contaminated as well as other vacant land.

Mr. Steen

I am sure that the House would like to know whether the Minister sleeps well at night knowing that there are 80,000 acres of derelict land on the register, another 80,000 acres of public vacant land that should be on the register, and three quarters of a million empty houses. Should not an embargo be placed on building houses on green-field sites until the derelict and vacant land in public ownership is used up and the empty houses all over the country are occupied?

Mr. Spicer

I am not sure whether my hon. Friend wants an answer about my sleeping habits, but I do understand that green-field development is questionable when large sectors of public land are vacant. Under present plans, we would be urbanising—if that is the right word—about 140,000 acres up to the end of the century, whereas, if my hon. Friend's figures are right—and I have no reason to dispute them—the area of public vacant land exceeds that figure. My hon. Friend is right to point that out.