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Derelict Land

Volume 930: debated on Wednesday 20 April 1977

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2.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will order an inquiry into vacant or derelict land held by local authorities.

I could not justify asking authorities to carry out such a costly inquiry at this stage.

Is it not in the interests of the inner cities that rehabilitation of such spoiled sites should be developed first rather than that we should follow the deplorable advice contained in the circular to local authorities on the Community Land Act just before Christmas? This advice encouraged the taking of more green field sites and the losing of more good agricultural land.

I agree that it is very much in the interests of inner cities that local authorities should deal with spoiled sites, and the Government are always encouraging them to do just that under the provisions of the Community Land Act. I would not interpret the advice given about the Community Land Act in the circular as encouraging local authorities to use green field sites. We have encouraged them, when they acquire land under the Act, to do so only in circumstances in which it can be quickly and reasonably disposed of.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there should be an inquiry into the location of areas such as used quarries and mines, which can receive waste from derelict sites? There is an urgent need to locate these areas.

I shall bear that point in mind, but it is primarily a matter for the county authorities.

Is the Minister aware of the concern that has been expressed about the loss of agricultural land by reason of its use for non-agricultural purposes? Will he assure the House that the Government see it as a priority that derelict sites should be used first for industrial purposes, rather than that good agricultural land should be used?

I take the point. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the White Paper "Food from Our Own Resources" deals with that precise point.

Is the Minister aware that his first reply was most unsatisfactory because in Liverpool, for example, 800 acres of land are in public ownership and cannot be used for the purposes originally specified, and that Manchester has some 230 acres and Newcastle 150 acres as the start of a catalogue of land in that category? Is it not a fact that this information should be collated and also that authorities should be encouraged to dispose of unused assets at residual value to ensure needed development and the release of capital from such resources which could be brought back into the public kitty?

I shall not attempt to deal with the hon. Gentleman's catalogue of complaints. He may believe that it is desirable to collate this information. I certainly agree that there is a need to deal with land holdings. Local authorities have had some difficulty, because in some cases, as a result of reorganisation, they have inherited inadequate records. We have encouraged them to get ahead with that task as far as possible, but on the question of collating information I must tell the hon. Gentleman that we are unwilling to put local authorities to considerable expense. I recognise the importance of derelict sites in inner cities, and we shall address ourselves to that subject in a White Paper, which will shortly be published. Indeed, this matter was also one of the subjects of my right hon. Friend's recent statement.