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General Duties of Authorities

Part of Clause 17 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th October 1975.

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Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Melton 12:00 am, 13th October 1975

We discussed this amendment at length in Committee. For that reason, I shall be brief, although it is a very important amendment.

The purpose of the amendment is to get it clearly on record in the Bill that one of the duties of local authorities under the land scheme will be to ensure that land is provided for the uninterrupted provision of housing and other development within their areas. It cannot be said too often that land is the vital commodity for the provision of houses.

The use of land and the development of houses on land is the difference between a developer and a contractor. The developer is risk-taking on the land whereas the contractor is not. Even with the accepted development provisions which the Minister has brought before the House this evening, with this new limit of 10,000 square feet the majority of houses, if this scheme goes through, will still be on land either in public ownership or which has passed through public ownership. The Opposition are not imbued with great confidence in the ability of local authorities to make land available for development in the future if they are to be the monopoly suppliers of building land. There is nothing in their previous record which leads us to have great confidence in them.

When my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) was Minister he had to issue three circulars—10/1970, 102/1972 and 122/1973—asking local government to ensure that more land was released for house building. In each case slightly stronger language was used year after year, but nevertheless the response was very poor.

The report of the Housing Research Foundation found that 40 per cent. of land used for housebuilding was land which had been white land, that is to say, builders had found it for themselves rather than it being marked on a development plan. Some major builders who are household names have publicly said that they get 80 per cent. of their land for providing houses on appeal to the Minister. In eight cases out of ten the local authority had refused them planning permission and they had to get it from the Minister, on appeal. Therefore, the record is not good. Certainly the builders themselves are not imbued with confidence that local authorities will do the job properly. The President of the House-Builders' Federation, writing in the Building Trades Journal on Friday 10th October, said: The proposals will cause a serious land famine within two years at the most. That will bring the housebuilding programme practically to a dead stop…. We are particularly concerned that the transitional system will lead to a damaging shortfall in the supply of land over the next few years which will have a disastrous impact on the housebuilding programme.Already there are signs that this is happening, and reports from our members indicate that many land-owners who were previously considering the sale of their land for development purposes have abandoned their plans because of the proposed development land tax and the existing development gains tax. There are already serious grounds for concern about the future prospects of land for development. There is not much we can do about improving the position in the Bill, because it is a Bill which will inevitably dry up the supply of land. However, we can only put a duty on local authorities to take that into consideration. That is the purpose of the amendment.