HL Deb 06 May 1982 vol 429 cc1258-9

3.9 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what they have done to encourage the release of publicly-owned land for private housebuilding.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, the Government have taken several initiatives in this field. First, they have introduced in England registers of publicly-owned unused and underused land more than one acre in size. Those now cover 350 districts in which has been identified a total acreage of over 83,000. Many sites are suitable for housing development. Secondly, at the Government's instance, the House Builders' Federation have made regional presentations to local authorities on low-cost starter homes with a view to getting land released for low-cost housing in partnership ventures. In structure plans, the aim is to provide for a five-year supply of land that is genuinely available.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, in thanking my noble friend the Minister for his very informative reply, may I ask him how much land has been sold and how much remains on the registers, since the registers' introduction?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, within the first 35 authorities with land registers, over 3,000 acres of land have been identified for housebuilding, and I understand that so far 700 acres have been disposed of, albeit for a variety of purposes. The other registers have been published only recently: 270 on the 1st April, and 45 last Tuesday, 4th May. So we shall have to wait and see what is forthcoming.

Baroness Fisher of Rednall

My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that the new derelict land regulations are not hindering those local authorities which are looking very seriously at derelict industrial land to develop, but feel that they are hampered by the regulations? Is this not in opposition to the Government's policy of trying to get the land on the market for potential housebuilders?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I am not aware of the problem to which the noble Baroness refers, and I should be very glad to discuss it with her later. We are in fact making available £45 million—I think that is the figure—for derelict land grant this year, and that is the highest such figure ever. We are extremely anxious to ensure that it is spent, since in the past amounts intended for the purpose have not always been spent. We will gladly work together with authorities who want to bring forth land that can be brought back into use.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, will the noble Lord please advise the House whether he will persuade local authorities not to increase allotment rents to such a level that plot-holders are forced out, in order that the council can sell the land for housing? Secondly, since so much land is available, will the Minister encourage local authorities to acquire it for allotment gardens and gardening activity generally? This is an activity which, with all due respect to the House, I would suggest would he good for the health of noble Lords.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I am well aware of the interest of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, in allotments, and I am quite sure that he knows a darned sight more about them than I do. On this point I would say only that I should not have thought that authorities were at all short of land, and the information coming from the registers supports that view. Whether or not authorities wish to make land available for allotments is for them to decide. I am sure that they will all read carefully what noble Lords have said today.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, in view of the rather small, limited amount of land that is disclosed in the registers, is it the intention of the Minister to provide a local authority register of privately-held land which might be suitable for development?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I should have thought that the amount of land to which I have been referring—83,000 acres—was anything but small. I should have thought that your Lordships would have considered that to be an enormous amount; I certainly do. The great "trick" (if I may use the word) is to see how we can bring it back into use, whereas hitherto it has not been used. If we were to achieve that even in part, it would make an enormous difference throughout the whole country. I rather feel that that puts into perspective the point that the noble Lord makes about the private sector. If we can get the public sector right, everything will flow.