HC Deb 01 December 1997 vol 302 cc8-9
7. Mr. Pike

What estimates his Department has made of the potential for disposal of its land and buildings over the next five years. [16800]

Mr. Spellar

In addition to forecast receipts this year of £140 million, we expect to receive about £200 million over the next two years for land and buildings that have already been identified as surplus. The strategic defence review is examining vigorously the scope for further disposals.

Mr. Pike

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Can he assure me that the review is as vigorous as possible, to ensure both that every possible piece of land and building that can be disposed of in the new defence situation that we are facing can be sold and the money realised for the nation and that use of large parts of our land will not be blocked?

Mr. Spellar

There has already been a considerable reduction in the defence estate. Further disposal will follow the identification of other areas. Of course we want to ensure that land and buildings are used to the maximum efficiency, not only to realise money for the defence budget but, quite properly, to ensure that land is available for regeneration and housing. Many local authorities are discussing those matters with us and many hon. Members are approaching us with useful, imaginative and exciting ideas for the use of that land.

Mr. Viggers

Can the Minister give an undertaking that, when defence land is released, the broader range of issues will be taken into account? I think especially of land in my constituency at Royal Clarence yard, where the Ministry of Defence is proposing to retain nine and a half acres, which is central to the millennium project for the development of Portsmouth harbour. Will he ensure that the Ministry of Defence is given an assurance by Government generally that broader interests are taken into account?

Mr. Spellar

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point. We try to take regeneration issues into account and to work with local authorities and other planning agencies wherever possible, but in many cases we must retain sites for strategic defence interests. We should not consider alienating that land if it were to the detriment of training or of the operations of the services. We are mindful of the need for regeneration and the ability, through that, to contribute to the regeneration of the whole country.

Sir George Young

Where land and buildings are surplus to the Department's requirements, will the Minister liaise closely with planning departments, such as those in Hampshire, to see whether the sites could be put to housing use, thereby reducing the threat of green-field development on which so many of his hon. Friends seem hellbent?

Mr. Spellar

I thank the right hon. Gentleman, who perhaps strayed into one of his previous incarnations in asking that question; but I take his point. We try to work with planning authorities at an early stage. That is important because it can facilitate the disposal of land, which can then be brought into effective use for the benefit of the community—with, incidentally, the best possible return for the defence budget.

Forward to