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Government Offices (London)

Volume 885: debated on Wednesday 5 February 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many square feet of office space is rented by Government Departments in the London area; and what is the total annual rental.

The figures are 14·4 million square feet; and £39·4 million in this financial year.

Those staggering figures are no joke. To what extent has the Government's policy on dispersal reduced them in the past year or so, and to what extent is it likely to reduce them during the next year or two?

I cannot speak for the past year, but the Government's dispersal programme will lead to savings in London rents amounting to about £27 million a year, at current figures, by the time the programme is complete, and a total reduction of 4·25 million square feet is expected.

Various aspects of the matter need to be considered. It is not only a question of dispersal policy. It is also a question of the availability of capital to get Crown buildings provided, to avoid the leasing of buildings at high rents. But this is a much more complicated and more questionable area of examination, because it brings me into the whole area of public expenditure and the total allocations that must be made.

What is the current annual rental value of the office buildings occupied by the Government in London, as opposed to the rent paid? The Minister referred to the opportunities to build Crown buildings. Is he aware how long the discussions have been going on on this subject? Is he aware of the advantages in efficiency of operation in modern purpose-designed buildings that could flow from the Government's taking advantage of the opportunities open to them to build on vacant sites that they now own, or have the option to own, in central London for office development?

The construction of Crown buildings has been under consideration for a long time and has been the subject of economies under successive Governments over many years. It is not possible merely to say "Build more" without involving oneself in an expansion of public expenditure. It is not a cheap exercise. There are matters which constrain us and drive the Government into rented buildings.

I cannot give a full answer off-the cuff to the question about current rental values of properties that have been under-rented as a result of the business rent controls and the freeze. I believe that if rents were to be charged at current levels following the freeze the additional amount for 1975–76 would be about £6·5 million nationally.