HC Deb 11 March 1997 vol 292 cc120-1W
Mr. Waterson

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has decided upon the future of the Commission for the New Towns; and if he will make a statement. [20010]

Mr. Curry

On 15 May last, in reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman)Official Report, column 489, I explained our intention to establish a residuary body to deal with any assets and liabilities of urban development corporations and housing action trusts that remained at wind up, and to dispose of the remaining new town land holdings. I said that, subject to parliamentary approval of powers given in the then Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Bill, we intended to base this body on the Commission for the New Towns. We believed it made sense to build on the CNT's expertise and experience in order to maximise the return to the Exchequer.

Following enactment of the Bill, we appointed consultants to consider whether it would be better to retain the CNT as a legal entity and reform it for this residuary role, or to set up a new body that would draw largely on the skills of former CNT staff. We also asked them to advise on the optimal size, structure and locations for the residuary body.

The consultants have advised that better value for money would be achieved by retaining the CNT, albeit in a slimmed-down form with a revised structure and focus, than by starting afresh with a new body. The Government agree with this advice and have therefore decided to extend the life of CNT for a number of years so as to enable it to continue to dispose of its assets and liabilities in an orderly and cost-effective manner. We intend, however, to undertake a fundamental review in 2000 of future strategy options and to determine in the light of conditions prevailing at that time how soon the commission could be closed.

From 1 April 1998, therefore, a revamped CNT will concentrate on selling the remaining new towns land and on disengaging from the residual assets and liabilities of the eight urban development corporations which wind up at the end of March 1998. It will also be able to act as a residuary body for those housing action trusts which wind up during its lifetime.

I have every confidence that the CNT will continue to maintain its excellent track record, which has led to receipts of over £2.3 billion in the last 15 years as well as resulting in additional private investment, good quality development and economic growth in the new towns. We shall expect it to meet challenging performance targets, but without resorting at any stage to firesales of its assets, since that would not achieve value for money and would be likely to disrupt local property markets. The CNT will also be expected to continue to take account of the interests of the local community when disposing of assets or settling liabilities.