HC Deb 28 October 1996 vol 284 cc321-2
12. Mr. Sumberg

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what representations he has received in connection with the management of properties owned by the Highways Agency in the Bury, South constituency; and if he will make a statement. [587]

Mr. Watts

I have received many representations from my hon. Friend on behalf of his constituents.

Mr. Sumberg

Although my constituents were delighted when my hon. Friend announced the cancellation of the M62 relief road, they are less than delighted by the situation that they now face. The management of the houses by my hon. Friend's agents is appalling. Many houses are still boarded up; there is a question mark over the safety of the gas boilers in some of the houses; worse, my constituents cannot sell their homes at anything like market value. It is totally unsatisfactory to keep on denying them compensation for the loss, in many cases, of their life savings. We must be able to deal with the matter in a better way. Will my hon. Friend re-examine it?

Mr. Watts

I think that my hon. Friend is aware of the reasons why it is not possible to use discretionary purchase in respect of a scheme that has been abandoned. However, I accept that conditions for many of his constituents have been unsatisfactory. That is why, earlier in the year, I took steps to speed the rate at which we can dispose of the properties, which are now entirely surplus to requirements. Having introduced sales by auction, we have sold a total of 70 properties—65 by auction and five by private treaty—and a further 42 sales have been agreed and are in the pipeline.

Mr. Lewis

Behind those figures lies the disgrace of the way in which the agency is dealing with the problem. The Minister knows the problems that the hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg) and I have brought to the House on several occasions—some of my constituents are also affected. The devaluing of whole areas of property, caused by the handling of the issue, is disgraceful. It is time that the Minister took a direct hand and took the matter away from the agency. He should start worrying about people for a change.

Mr. Watts

The hon. Gentleman should recognise that the poor condition of a property is usually the result of vandalism or, in some instances, of ill treatment by the temporary tenants. I have already explained that I have taken a direct hand in switching from sale by private treaty only to auction sales, which have proved successful. The best way to bring comfort to the remaining owner-occupiers in the area is to dispose of our holdings as rapidly as possible so that we no longer exert a blighting influence on the neighbourhood.

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