HL Deb 22 November 1976 vol 377 cc1653-6

11.11 a.m.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many acres of farm land have been taken over for housing, factories and other buildings in the years 1975 and 1976.

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Peart)

My Lords, I regret that I am unable to give a reply in the precise terms used by the noble Baroness. Using figures for the five-year period ending in June 1975, which is the latest information available, about 39,000 acres of agricultural land in the United Kingdom were lost each year to urban, industrial and recreational use, excluding mineral workings. This information is taken from the returns in the annual agricultural census.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Has a survey been made of derelict lands and open spaces in cities and towns, to see whether these could be used for building of factories and houses in the future, which would thus save good agricultural land?


My Lords, no precise survey of that kind has been made, but there have been independent assessments, such as that by the Centre for Agricultural Strategy, which I assume the noble Baroness has read. The noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, highlighted in a statement the loss of agricultural land. But the Ministry of Agriculture is naturally concerned that good agricultural land is not lost, if this can be avoided.


My Lords, can my noble friend give us any information with regard to the acreage which has been taken up during this period for new roads, motorways and similar purposes; and, if he has not got the particulars, would he get them and circulate them in the Official Report?


My Lords, I shall see if I can get them and I shall reply to my noble friend.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether Her Majesty's Government will encourage local authorities, when they are building schools, to build two-storey schools, or even three-storey schools, instead of having sprawling one-floor buildings all over good agricultural land? It does the little children no harm to run upstairs.


My Lords, the noble Baroness has asked me to do certain things concerning the question of the height of schools which I do not think any Government have ever agreed to. I think we must accept that at every stage of development there must be a careful look at the situation from the point of view of the needs of agriculture.


My Lords, is not the worrying thing about the figures which the noble Lord has given the fact that the majority of this acreage is usually good agricultural land? Are statistics kept to say how much of the 39,000 acres represents good agricultural land as opposed to relatively poor stock?


My Lords, I cannot give a figure today without notice, but I will get it for the noble Earl. Around 0.3 per cent of the total agricultural area of the United Kingdom is lost to other use each year. As the noble Earl knows, under the Government's strategy for the development of agriculture, food production from our own resources is expected to rise by about 2½ per cent. per annum on average, so I do not think we should be too pessimistic.


My Lords, would that be from the existing acreage or from the decreasing acreage?


From the decreasing acreage, my Lords.


My Lords, what was the point of all the work we put into the Community Land Act if no hope is to be derived from this measure in reducing the amount of good agricultural land that is taken for urban development?


My Lords, the policy for protecting agricultural land applies equally to land acquired for development under the Community Land Act, and I believe that such productive use of land should be continued as long as possible.


My Lords, would the House be right in assuming that if 3 per cent. of land is taken for development every year it will be 33 years before—


It is 0.3 per cent.


—it will be 330 years before there is no grass left in England?


My Lords, I do not think I shall be Minister then, so I cannot answer my noble friend.