asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what initiatives the Government are currently taking to encourage local authorities to reclaim derelict land.
Circular 17/77 drew attention to the benefits of reclaiming derelict land and set out the grants, including 100 per cent. grants in the assisted areas and derelict land clearance areas, which are available to local authorities for this purpose.
As there is about 30 square miles of derelict land in the North-West, would the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the recent statement suggesting that there will be improved conditions for Merseyside will not mean that there will be a reduction in the support for other areas in the North-West?
There has been a reduction in the allocation of grants, but the problem has been the take-up of the allocation by the local authorities, which has been only 50 per cent. The allocation has therefore been cut for this year—I am sure that hon. Members on the Oppo- sition Benches who are always demanding cuts will support that—but the amount is still above what was requested by the district and county authorities last year.
Will the Minister consider the wisdom of asking local authorities to make a check on the ground that they own already? Is he aware that some months ago in Birmingham the council wrote to a man asking him to clear up a particularly bad piece of land and that he wrote back to say that he agreed that the bottles, tramps, and rubbish should be removed from the land but that it belonged to the council? Would it not be advisable to ask councils to check what land they own?
The hon. Lady should take up that matter with the authority concerned. I have told local authorities of the need to clear up derelict land and I have said that funds are available for that purpose.
Is it enough to leave the matter to the individual local authority? Why do not the Government take the initiative and require local authorities to prepare a Domesday Book of all land in public ownership, and make sure that the land is brought forward for development at the earliest possible moment? If the resources for development are not available to local authorities, the land should be sold for private development and the capital used for public works.
I am sure that hon. Members would not approve of such dictation to local authorities. I hope that the local authorities—which, to the pleasure of the hon. Gentleman, are now mainly controlled by his party—will take full advantage of the grants available, and the hon. Gentleman should urge them to do so.