asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will take action to see that when local authorities are able to dispose of office accommodation they are free to dispose of it at the best possible price and on a freehold basis if they wish to do so.
Local authorities are already free to dispose of surplus office accommodation on the best terms available for leases of up to 99 years. If there is a special case for disposal on a freehold basis or a longer leasehold agreement, I am prepared to consider it.
In my county, which the hon. Gentleman knows about because he recently met a delegation from it, we have a large number of properties to dispose of because of officers moving into new properties. Can he arrange a quick decision and confirm that, if it is in the interests of the county's ratepayers to dispose of these properties on a freehold basis, quick agreement will be forthcoming from the Government?
Might I probe this matter a little further? Is it not time to clip or liberate the fussy planning powers of local authorities? Was it not better in the old days when we had shops, offices and workshops which added colour and variety to the residential areas in which they were situated? I remember that when I was a lad there was a felt-monger's round the corner between two private houses and no one minded.