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Agricultural Land Loss

Volume 12: debated on Thursday 12 November 1981

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10.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the accuracy of estimates of annual losses of agricultural land to urban development and other uses; and if he will make a statement.

16.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the accuracy of estimates of annual losses of agricultural land to urban development and other uses; and if he will make a statement.

The estimates of annual losses of agricultural land to urban development and other uses are derived as a by-product of the agricultural census and within the resources available for statistical inquiries they are the most accurate that can be obtained.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. However, is he aware that the Department of the Environment estimates that in the five years to 1979 about 100,000 acres were lost as against what I believe to be 45,000 acres estimated by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food?

My hon. Friend will find that there are some discrepancies in those figures involving the inclusion of Scotland and Wales in one set of figures and not in the other.

Will my right hon. Friend consider the introduction of statutory requirements to register change of land use from agricultural to other uses? Does he agree that that would slow down the loss of agricultural land and improve the statistics as between his Department and the Department of the Environment?

I am sure that it would improve them, but at the cost of a substantial increase in bureaucracy, numbers of staff involved, the number of forms to be filled in and applications to be made. There must be a balance between the statistical information that we would like to see and the cost of obtaining it.

Is it not a fact that the Conservative Party was elected on a platform of freedom of choice and the market economy? Why should it now change its policy of allowing builders to build on meadows and chop down trees? Surely the right hon. Gentleman is denying everything that the Conservative Party stands for.

Would my right hon. Friend be surprised to learn that 90 per cent. of our residential dwellings are built on 10 per cent. of the land? Will he accept that?

Has the Minister given any consideration to the loss of land that would be occasioned by the development proposed by his Government of the airport at Stansted? Is his Department making any representations about that on the ground that good agricultural land would be lost?

On all major planning decisions, and many of the minor ones, where good agricultural land is concerned my Department always makes representations and puts its case for agricultural land.