HC Deb 15 January 1991 vol 183 cc454-5W
Mr. Burns

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he has reached a decision on the disposal of the Rural Development Commission factory estates; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Trippier

The Rural Development Commission and its predecessors have funded a very successful programme of workspace provision over many years. Following the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on 23 April, I have sought the advice of the Rural Development Commission on the disposal of its portfolio. The RDC portfolio has a number of special characteristics, among them the fact that many of the factory units that have been provided are in small blocks in remote rural areas. I am pleased to announce that having received the Rural Development Commission's advice, I have decided to proceed with the sale of the portfolio. Government policy is to encourage suitable premises and sites to be made available through the private sector to new and expanding enterprises in rural areas. The sale of the estate is intended to further this policy by involving the private sector in the ownership and management of property in rural areas. It also builds on the existing policy of selling units to tenants in appropriate circumstances. I propose to introduce a new grants scheme to encourage private developers to make further provision while at the same time withdrawing progressively from direct provision to complement this. The twin objectives of maximising the return to the taxpayer from the sale and encouraging the involvement of a range of private sector interests will best be met through a phased sale, with the intention that this should be spread over a period of about three years with the rate of disposal adjusted to market conditions.

Wherever it is practical to do so, and in line with the above objectives I have asked the Rural Development Commission and English Estates to offer existing tenants an opportunity to bid for their premises.