HC Deb 12 April 1976 vol 909 cc368-9W
Mr. Alan Lee Williams

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he has completed his review of the operation of the office development control; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. John Silkin

My right hon. Friend told the House on 30th July 1974 that he was setting in hand a review of the objectives of national policy and the ways of purusing them on the regulation of new office buildings.

Following the review we have decided that the present control could be somewhat relaxed without prejudice to major objectives, and accordingly we intend to raise from 10,000 sq. ft. to 15,000 sq. ft. the exemption limit for office development permits in the control area, that is the South East Economic Planning Region. An order to give effect to this decision will be laid before Parliament. The control will continue to be applied strictly to the larger developments, and applicants will be required to show that a move to an assisted area is not practicable.

There will be severe restriction on new permits for speculative building even for replacement; but we shall continue to give permits in a limited number of such cases where the development would produce substantial public benefit. In addition, in order to help provide for the needs of small firms, we shall be ready to consider proposals for speculative office space which is to be let in small suites, generally of less than 5,000 sq. ft.

The review by my officials has brought together much useful material. We have decided to make it generally available so that it can help to inform public debate. The officials' report is accordingly being published today by the Department and copies will be placed in the Library. We should make it clear that we do not propose to pursue possible alternative systems of regulation which are discussed in the report, including control of the occupation of office floor space, or special regional taxes or levies on the building or occupation of offices or on employment of office workers. But the review suggests a modification of the present control, so as to allow approval of an occupier to come later in the development process than, as now, at the beginning, before planning permission is sought. We shall welcome views on this possibility, which would require legislation, and we shall be consulting the various bodies concerned.

The review also suggests that in the light of changed circumstances the time has come to consider a wider role for the Location of Office Bureau, which has done such good work under its present remit to promote decentralisation of office work from central London. We are considering this useful suggestion and hope to bring proposals before the House.