HC Deb 30 October 1992 vol 212 cc860-1W
Mr. Cran

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will announce the outcome of the consultation on changes to the arrangements under which surplus land is offered for sale back to former owners.

Mr. Robin Squire

Consultation papers issued in England and Wales last December and in April in Scotland proposed that the arrangements, which apply directly to Government Departments and agencies and are recommended to local authorities and other statutory bodies, should be modified as follows:

  1. (a) qualified valuers other than the district valuer should be able to carry out valuations for disposal;
  2. (b) there should be an additional exemption from the offer-back obligation in cases where competitive sale is essential to establish market value;
  3. (c) the periods allowed for former owners to indicate an intention to purchase and agree terms should be simplified by allowing two months in all cases for indicating an intention to purchase, two months to agree terms other than value and a further six weeks to agree the price;
  4. (d) in the case of future acquisitions, a 25 year cut off on the obligation to offer back to former owners should apply to agricultural land as it already does to other land;
  5. (e) the terms of sale should include clawback provisions in cases where the planning position of a site is unclear.

The response to consultation indicated a measure of support for all the proposals. There was, however, some concern that the changes at (d) and (e) would unduly weaken the position of former owners or their successors. Having given careful consideration to the views expressed, I remain of the view that the changes are justified. There is no logic in the existing situation whereby the offer-back obligation applies to any agricultural land acquired since 1935 but only for 25 years from the date of acquisition in the case of other land.

Moreover, disposing bodies can face insuperable difficulties in trying to trace successors of owners whose land was acquired perhaps 50 or more years ago. As regards the use of clawback, this is the only practicable means of protecting the taxpayer's interest in cases of exceptional planning sensitivity where it would not be appropriate for a disposing Department itself to take action to clarify the planning position in order to establish the value of the land.

I have therefore concluded that it is right to proceed with all the changes referred to above. The new arrangements will take effect from today. My right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Wales and the Secretary of State for Scotland are introducing similar changes following consultation exercises there. The revised procedures are set out in letters issued by my Department and the Welsh Office and in a circular issued by the Scottish Office today.

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