HL Deb 16 March 1989 vol 505 cc338-40

3.30 p.m.

Lord Sefton of Garston asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether it is true, as reported in the Evening Standard of 1st March 1989, that a site behind the Tate Gallery is to be occupied by government offices and, if so, what is the expected cost of the project and which department will be the occupants.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Hesketh)

My Lords, the answer to the first part of the noble Lord's Question is, yes. The answer to the second part of his Question is: in the region of £130 million. The answer to the third part of his Question is that it is too early to say.

Lord Sefton of Garston

My Lords. that Answer seems to reflect the attitude of the Government in regard to what was described by the noble Lord, Lord Young, two years ago as the dispersal policy. The Government do not seem to know what they are doing in regard to siting offices in London and do not even seem to know who is to occupy them.

Does not the Minister agree with me, in view of the fact that the Government are about to spend a considerable amount of money and effort in carrying out a survey to endeavour to relieve the congestion in the capital, that it would be just as well if they themselves determined what their dispersal policy should be? Only yesterday the private sector reported that we can expect another 40,000 jobs in the service sector in London and the South-East. How can the Government expect people to carry out a responsible survey if they do not know the Government's attitude to the dispersal of offices in London?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, if the noble Lord would like to table a Question on dispersal I should be more than happy to answer it. However, he is probably aware that the PSA was criticised by the Public Accounts Committee for having too much dependence on leasehold and not enough on freehold. I should like to think that what the Government have just done will contribute towards a better balance and answer the problem.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, can the noble Lord say which government department will occupy these offices? Will there be sufficient space should the Tate Gallery wish to expand?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, the simple fact of the matter is that there are a number of leaseholds held by the PSA which are due for review shortly. As a result, it is thought prudent that in forward planning the PSA should acquire a freehold for future definition and, we hope, accommodation of government departments.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Minister has undoubtedly responded to the letter of my noble friend's Question but he has not appreciated the spirit of it. If, as I understand it, we are talking about the Green Giant site, which has been the subject of application for planning for government offices for many years, does not the noble Lord agree that the proposed use of that site for government offices is totally overtaken by the expressed desire of the Government to disperse government offices to other parts of the country outside London?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I hope that the principle I outlined earlier concerning the PAC's review of leasehold properties has answered the question put to me by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. However, if he would like to table a Question concerning dispersal, which I would quite understand, I should be more than happy to answer it.

Lord Hutchinson of Lullington

My Lords, can the Minister tell me where this site is? Will he confirm that the site has nothing to do with the land which has been earmarked for the development of the Tate Gallery?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I feel that I am entirely right in supporting what the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, said. It has nothing to do with development of the Tate Gallery.

Lord Sefton of Garston

My Lords, it seems to me that we get into a greater mess every time the Government issue a statement about the siting of government offices in the capital city. It is a sad state of affairs— —

Noble Lords


Lord Sefton of Garston

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that this is a sad state of affairs? The noble Lord, Lord Young, said two years ago that we were expecting a statement of government policy on dispersal, but now, when a Member of this House wants to find out what is happening in regard to the siting of jobs which will cause greater congestion in London, where people can hardly move, it is regrettable that he has to seek such information from the Evening Standard rather than from the Government. It seems to me that the Government have no policy.

Finally, will the Minister use his good offices in order to perhaps write to me on whether or not the Government intend to have a dispersal policy?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I must refer the noble Lord, Lord Sefton, back to my earlier reply. We are looking at two different issues. One is the issue he raised concerning dispersal of government departments to outside the capital and the other concerns the estate of the Government. The fact is that the Government are being extremely prudent in reviewing the position concerning their leasehold properties and in regard to the balance of freehold properties. On that basis, if the noble Lord would like to table a Question concerning the dispersal of government departments I should be more than happy to answer it, but it is a separate question from that on the Order Paper.

Lord Sefton of Garston

My Lords, prudence involves the continuous payment of 25 per cent. more to staffs in London when they could be obtained much cheaper outside the South-East.

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