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Regional Development Agencies

Volume 728: debated on Tuesday 21 June 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they are making with disposing of the assets of regional development agencies.

My Lords, I am pleased to report that good progress is being made on the disposal of the RDA assets. Around 20 per cent of land and property has been cleared for sale on the open market. BIS and the DCLG are working closely on arrangements for the long-term management of the remaining property portfolio.

My Lords, is the Minister aware—she will be—that most of this property and land was bought for public purposes in order to carry out and to assist desirable development? Will she guarantee that careful attention is being given in every case where disposal is taking place to make sure that the people who are buying the land and property intend to use it for the purpose for which it was originally acquired?

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is very engaged with this subject. We exchange letters almost weekly and I am very happy to answer him again now. BIS and the Department for Communities and Local Government are considering how to manage the remaining land and property assets. An announcement will be made on that soon. One option is to transfer them to the Homes and Communities Agency, which would allow local areas to benefit from regeneration of the RDA assets. I hope that the noble Lord finds that helpful.

My Lords, would the Minister indicate what proportion of the proceeds of sale will be devoted to economic development in the regions and, specifically, what proportion will be allocated to economic regeneration in the north-east, whose RDA, One North East, was one of the most successful in the country?

The north-east and north-west RDAs were successful and popular. Businesses and civic leaders had the opportunity to form local enterprise partnerships that covered the existing RDA boundaries but they chose not to do so. Economic ties do not necessarily match local or regional boundaries, so the answers will be different from the RDAs.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a board member of One North East and as a member of Newcastle City Council. Will the Minister confirm that it is not the plan of the Government to nationalise RDA assets but that money which was allocated to specific regions will, on sale, be spent in those regions? Will she further confirm that, should there be a transfer of residual assets to the HCA, the HCA will consult within its regions on how those assets should be allocated?

That was short and sweet. Can the Minister say whether the financial promises made by regional development agencies, particularly by the Northwest Regional Development Agency, in relation to the Rugby League World Cup and Lancashire County Cricket Club with regard to the building of its new ground will be honoured?

I can confirm that the Rugby League World Cup is a legal commitment of the Northwest Regional Development Agency and therefore will be honoured. The renovation of the Lancashire County Cricket Club ground is currently subject to an ongoing legal process, so it would be inappropriate for me to comment on it. Where there are legal commitments, projects will continue to be funded by the RDA up to closure and then by the successor body.

My Lords, I note that the Government’s stated objectives are to maximise receipts in order to create best value for the taxpayer and to create maximum long-term value for the economy, presumably the local economy. Can the Minister tell us how and by whom the second objective of long-term value will be evaluated?

All sorts of arrangements are being made, some of which are not yet complete. We will make an announcement soon on some of the remaining land and property assets that have not yet been disbursed. We also have venture capital funds that are being transferred to BIS. Investment decisions will remain sited in the regions and funds will be reinvested for the benefit of the regions.

My Lords, will the Government encourage the HCA to devote some of the land it acquires to the provision of Gipsy sites, which will be in short supply consequent on the abolition of the regional strategies?

I am afraid I do not have the answer to hand because I was not expecting the question. However, it is a good question and I will go back, see what I can find out, and write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, the Minister has said some welcome things. I declare my interest as a member of a local authority. Will she confirm that if local authorities are interested in taking on some of the land and assets of the RDAs, even if they have to purchase them, they are given priority?

I have no doubt that local authorities will be considered along with any other approaches that are made.