At the end of June 1985 the land registers showed 113,000 acres of unused or underused land owned by local authorities and other public bodies in England. Figures for the last three years are:
In view of the immense amount of land stuck on the registers, which I believe is only the tip of the iceberg, will my right hon. Friend consider privatising public land, raising the necessary finance through the issue of industrial revenue bonds, and amending planning laws so that a national, wasting asset may be put to excellent use?
My hon. Friend's proposals are interesting. We wish to persuade local authorities to use the land, because the public hoarding of land when nothing is planned for it and nothing is happening to it is unacceptable. I shall certainly consider my hon. Friend's proposals.
Merseyside development corporation is undertaking some of the best developments on Merseyside, as I think the hon. Gentleman will recognise. Members on both sides of the House will agree that it is a disgrace when public authorities—local authorities or nationalised industries—own land and are doing nothing with it, and that that land should be sold and developed.
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the pressure on housing land in the south. Is it not a scandal that those authorities are still holding on to land which in many cases is derelict? Has the time not come to give up persuasion and to set a time limit on how long those authorities may hang on to what is a valuable and, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) said, wasting asset?
A third of the land is in the inner cities, and the Government are not sitting idly by. We have already issued four directions, and in June my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that he was thinking of giving warnings that he would issue instructions on a further 50 sites covering some 388 acres. We are moving energetically.
Is not one of the biggest single obstacles to bringing derelict land back into use, particularly in inner cities, the Government's failure to remove the restrictions on the expenditure of derelict land grant? Have not hundreds of projects submitted by local authorities been held up by the Government's restrictions? Could such schemes not bring commerce, industry and housing, and private investment to match public expenditure, if only the Government would increase the permitted expenditure?
We have substantially increased expenditure on derelict land grants since we came into office. It has increased again this year to about £75 million a year. I agree with everything that the right hon. Gentleman said, and I hope that there will be an increase next year.