§ 1. Mr. Peter Bottomley
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will require local authorities to publish registers of their land holdings.
§ 5. Mr. Macfarlane
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what discussions he has had with the local authorities regarding the problem of waste land.
§ The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Peter Shore)
I do not intend at the present time to compel local authorities to publish registers of all their land holdings. My immediate aim is to concentrate efforts to identify and secure early development of unused land in those areas where the problem of derelict and waste land is most serious, particularly in the inner cities. To this end I have written to the chairmen of the main nationalised industries and statutory undertakers, and have asked local authorities in partnership and programme areas to bring forward proposals to bring derelict and waste land into use. The powers contained in the Inner Urban Areas Bill and the extension of the derelict land clearance areas announced yesterday will be a considerable help.
§ Mr. Bottomley
Is the Secretary of State aware that his reply is encouraging in so far as it helps to put pressure on the statutory undertakers and local authorities? Will he continue to encourage them to publish land registers not only with a note of the planned use for the land but with a date when it is expected to come into development? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that public pressure on the authorities concerned will help to get this land into use, creating jobs and industry and eliminating dereliction and eyesores which exist at the moment?
§ Mr. Shore
It will encourage local authorities, where they think it appropriate, to make known as much information as possible about their holdings of unused land. I frequently talk to the local authority associations. I can say that I have 1159 come under no pressure from them to make this a priority at present.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
Is not the problem very different from the one posed by the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley)? Is it not a fact that many councils which desperately need land for housing and other purposes cannot buy it—I am thinking of disused docks and other land which may not have been used for 20 years or more—because the district valuer is placing an industrial site value upon it? Will he therefore permit local authorities to acquire the land at its current use value, which may be nil or very little, since that was the original Labour Party proposal on land acquisition four years ago?
§ Mr. Shore
Local authorities have wide powers for acquiring land, and the compensation which they pay for it is laid down by statute. It varies according to the categories of land and buildings that they are acquiring. I agree that in some areas of the country and some inner city areas the shortage of land is still a major problem. Equally, there are other areas of the inner cities where the problem now is to make effective use of land for which no proper purposes can yet be found.
§ Mr. Durant
Does the Minister agree that this is public land and that therefore the public has some right to know who owns it and where it is?
§ Mr. Shore
Yes. The truth is that in a number of the areas with which we are most concerned the existence of such unused land is self-evident. The main problem and purpose is to find uses for it. I am strongly encouraging the local authorities, particularly in inner city areas, to pay attention to the matter now.
§ Mr. Lee
Does the Minister agree that while a register is necessary, everything possible should be done to encourage local authorities to amass vast quantities of land, as did the city of Birmingham at one time, years ago? Does he also agree that everything possible should be done discourage them from selling off their portions as, alas, the city of Birmingham did under Conservative management in recent years?
§ Mr. Shore
Local authorities have to take a serious long-term view of their 1160 land holdings and land needs. In a number of cases, against a forecast of housing and other need, it is sensible for local authorities to be accumulating land and not disposing of it. In other areas the conditions are different.
§ Mr. Heseltine
Cannot the Secretary of State understand that local authorities have been taking a serious and long-term view of their responsibilities for many years? What is needed is a new approach whereby parcels of land are put up for sale at public auction in order to give people the opportunity to develop with private money the facilities that are needed in the inner cities.
Would not it be a gesture of enthusiasm for his partnership schemes if he were to suggest that there should be pilot disposals of land in inner city centres, of the sort that we have seen in Liverpool recently, so that there can be something to show for all the conversations that are taking place?
§ Mr. Shore
I think that the hon. Gentleman is on a different point. Local councils take a long-term view of their responsibilities. However, the hon. Gentleman should be aware of how greatly circumstances have changed in a number of our major cities, and the earlier assumptions have now to be seriously revised.
I am much in favour of testing the market price of land. I hope that local authorities and private owners of land will not be obsessed by the historic cost of the land that they bought but will realistically test what the market value is.