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Housing Land

Volume 888: debated on Wednesday 19 March 1975

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the Secretary of State for the Environment what steps he can take to assist local authorities suffering from land shortage for house building within their own boundaries.

I am not aware of any additional assistance which is required by local authorities to ensure that they make the most appropriate use of available land within their boundaries or beyond them. The Housing, the Town Development and the New Towns Acts all make provision for housing development elsewhere to meet housing needs which cannot be satisfied locally.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the aims and objects of the 1974 Housing Rents and Subsidies Act are to be met, the effects of the reorganisation of local government mean that many local authorities now find it difficult to provide land within city boundaries? Will he take into account one of two alternatives? The first is to consider the amount of land at present occupied in my constituency by British Rail, the gas board and the British Docks Board. They occupy areas capable of providing sufficient land for the development of 6,000 houses. The second alternative is to give local authorities a wider choice of land by transferring the responsibility to the counties in the interim period.

On that latter point, I have no intention at present of making any further changes in the distribution of duties between counties and districts. Dealing with the first part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, I accept what he says about disused land. The South Docks in Liverpool cover a very large area of land. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary recently met representatives of the Docks and Harbour Board, Merseyside county and Liverpool city, and a working party under my regional director's chairmanship is exploring all the possibilities as to how this land could best be utilised by local authorities.

Is the Secretary of State aware that local authorities with insufficient land in both urban and rural areas will not be assisted by any cutback in the money available for improving housing stocks, and that in a time of economic crisis we should be placing emphasis in that direction rather than moving towards more new building?

I cannot agree. Within the total amount of money available for public sector housing—which, incidentally, is far greater than it was a year ago—our priorities are, number one, new additional housing ; number two, the improvement of the worst part of the existing housing stock, which is typically in the private sector ; and, I regret to say only number three, the improvements on which huge sums are being spent on purpose-built local authority estates.