asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he intends to publish land registers for the remaining districts for England; and if he will make a statement.
I will be publishing on 1 April land registers for an additional 269 districts of England. I expect local authorities and others concerned to send in the information for the remainder so that these too can be published as soon as possible.The total land newly registered amounts to 52,287 acres, which means that there are now approximately 73,500 acres of registered land in public ownership that is unused or underused on 8,350 sites of an acre or more in size. Of the 21,000 acres already shown on the 35 registers which I set up earlier, over half of them have been found to have potential for early development. Not all registered land is appropriate for building and some which is appropriate suffers from problems of dereliction, To tackle urban dereliction and decay, I shall be giving priority to schemes to reclaim derelict sites, and in particular land register sites, for industrial, commercial, housing and other development.I refer to the statement on inner cities which I made in the House on 9 December last year—[Vol. 14, c. 855]—and also to the recent Budget Statement by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 9 March. In that Statement he announced that in 1983–84 up to £70 million of the provision for the urban programme and for derelict land reclamation will be earmarked for projects that encourage participation by the private sector [Vol. 19, c. 750]. I shall give particular priority in this to schemes involving the use of registered sites.The publication of land registers for the greater part of the country represents a major opportunity to secure the better use of massive acreages of underused land. Given the resources also available for dealing with dereliction, it is important that action should be taken to dispose of the land to best advantage as soon as possible. Already 600 acres of the land on the first 35 registers have been disposed of, 4,000 are currently on the market, and yet another 1,000 are actively being prepared for development for other use.It is essential now to build up the momentum of disposals. I will not hesitate to direct disposal of land which is being unreasonably withheld. But I am sure that land-owning bodies themselves will want to take full advantage of the opportunities offered; and it is up to builders and developers to examine registers and seek out the owners to make an offer for any site in which they are interested.When the local authorities and other bodies sell registered land, it is important that they should obtain the best price for it. In some cases auction may be the appropriate way of achieving this, in others competitive tender. Subject, however, to proper valuation it may be reasonable to negotiate for a direct sale to an individual purchaser in cases where there is a firm prospect of subsequent development of the land according to agreed plans.The land register scheme shows that if we can get more effective use of urban land it can make a significant contribution to reviving the economic life and environment of inner cities and reduce some of the outward pressures for urban expansion which will otherwise spill out into the countryside. Better use of urban land is an important part of the Government's policy of safeguarding good agricultural land, maintaining green belts and conserving attractive countryside.