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Mr. Fabricant rose--

Mr. Steen: Before I explain how it will do so, I give way.

Mr. Fabricant: My hon. Friend is as generous as ever in giving way to me a second time. Does he accept that the Bill protects not only the countryside but the inner cities? Is he aware of the problems that exist in, for example, the United States, which has similar house ownership patterns to those in the United Kingdom, and where people have moved from the inner cities to the countryside or the rurban areas, thus creating no-go areas of deprivation in the inner cities? Does he agree that housebuilding of a good standard in the inner cities will ensure that inner cities continue to live?

Mr. Steen: I do not know whether my hon. Friend is aware of this, but I was fortunate enough to be given a scholarship by the State Department in the United States, and I visited 28 American cities in 29 days. That enabled me to write "New Life for Old Cities". Therefore, I am familiar with the point that my hon. Friend raises. It is a good point, and I agree with him.

Let me deal with my Bill, because I believe that the House wants to get on with it. My Bill will address once and for all the failure of successive Governments to motivate developers to revive rundown areas in towns and cities, principally inner and outer cities.

Central downtown areas containing small businesses and housing were demolished after the war, when the push by all local authorities was to build houses fit for heroes. The population of the inner city were decanted to the outer city where vast council estates were built, especially in the midlands and the northern cities. The more prosperous and the more upwardly mobile people moved to the new towns, beyond the boundaries of the city, and to the countryside, leaving in the inner city the poorest, the unemployed and the elderly. That pattern is unchanged. The doughnut has lost its jam in the middle, and the upwardly mobile--the skilled--moved out to new towns and the countryside.

As a result, many of our larger industrial cities still have depressed inner cities--and depressed outer cities, where there are large council estates. In the course of the transfer from the inner to the outer city, land and buildings in the inner city became vacant, dormant and derelict, in public and private ownership. During the 1960s and 1970s, much of it was in public ownership, in the hands of British Rail, the electricity and water boards and British Gas. They all had sites and sidings in towns and cities.

The ownership of land has now drastically changed: publicly owned land has moved into private ownership as a result of the privatisation of the utilities. Yet, oddly,

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despite 18 years of Conservative Governments' commitment to get rid of it, the amount of derelict land continues to increase.

In 1993, 600 sq km of land in England and Wales was derelict, vacant or under-utilised--an area the size of Leeds. The number of empty homes has increased: last year, there were three quarters of a million--772,300, to be exact. If all those empty homes were filled and all the land was filled, we would be able to reduce the figure for new build from 3.8 million to nearer 2.8 million. Similarly, if all derelict land were fully utilised, the countryside would be protected and vibrancy would return to our cities.

Bearing in mind that the urban areas of England grew by 40 per cent. between 1950 and 1990, the House will immediately recognise the importance of trying to use existing space before eroding the countryside and covering it with urban sprawl.

Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire): I very much agree with the thrust of what my hon. Friend is saying, but is he aware that the Country Landowners Association in particular is saying that in some way or other his Bill will forbid the development of, or make it impossible to develop, derelict and contaminated land in rural areas? That cannot be right, can it?

Mr. Steen: No, it is not. I have a high regard for the Country Landowners Association, but it has got that wrong, and I will tell you why it has got that wrong, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My Bill states that brownfield sites in district council areas--that means rural areas--must be filled before green fields are built on. I shall explain that in a moment. The country landowners may have misunderstood that, but I believe that if they listen to what I have to say, they will understand that they have got that wrong.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): I am listening with interest to what the hon. Gentleman says, because on 16 December 1996 he said the following:

It seems to me that what he said in 1996 is diametrically opposed to what he has just said and to the Bill. He might like to comment on that.

Mr. Steen: I did not understand what the hon. Gentleman was saying.

Mr. Soames: He was gabbling.

Mr. Steen: That may be part of the problem. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would explain it again.

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Mr. Dismore: I am interested to hear what the hon. Gentleman says, because I was actually quoting from his own speech, in which he seemed to be suggesting that greenfield land should be used because

which he said was

    a tremendous burden on the public purse, and the money could be used for something useful.

Those are his words, and that seems to be entirely the opposite of what the Bill is about and what he has just been saying to the House.

Mr. Steen: I do not think that that helped the House any more than it did previously, but I hear what the hon. Gentleman says--[Hon. Members: "What you said."] I heard what I said, but, with all respect to the hon. Gentleman, I am not quite sure what relevance that profound statement has to what I am saying now.

Mr. Dismore: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will let me try a third time. Basically, what he is saying today in his Bill--[Hon. Members: "Slow down."] What he is saying in his Bill is that we should be using brownfield sites, not greenfield sites; but what he said in 1996 was entirely the opposite:

The words "alternative land" could in practice mean only brownfield sites, and the hon. Gentleman said:

    That is a tremendous burden on the public purse, and the money could be used for something useful.--[Official Report, 16 December 1996; Vol. 287, c. 735.]

How can he say that in 1996 and say entirely the opposite now?

Mr. Steen: I think that the hon. Gentleman has missed the point. The most important thing is to deal with the Bill. I want to deal with clauses 1 and 2, which address a very simple issue--the identification of where vacant, dormant, derelict land is located, together with its size and ownership. Some land may not be derelict, but it can be under-utilised, and PPG3 rightly recognises the need to maximise land use.

In Plymouth, for example, acres of land are under-utilised. King William dock has thousands of feet of vacant, unused buildings. All over the country there are buildings, which, if fully utilised, would counter the never-ending push outwards to the countryside.

My Bill will highlight in an annual audit exactly where the land and buildings that are vacant, dormant, derelict or under-utilised are situated. It will put a searchlight on who owns the land and buildings that are not fully used. It will increase transparency, and I think that is just the thing that the new Administration would immediately seize on and applaud. As things stand, few people know where partly empty or under-utilised land is and they do not know why thousands of houses are unoccupied, why housing has been abandoned and why land has been left idle. The publishing of an annual audit locally will, for the first time, make owners sit up and face the publicity resulting from their hoarding of land and buildings. It is not an intrusion into privacy. If we are to save our countryside, it is an essential requirement that we use the unused land in our cities and that we fill the buildings that are empty.

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Local authorities will have to publish the audit. The aim is to bring pressure on public authorities and private owners not to hoard land or accumulate empty properties. The aim is to use what we already have. That is why clause 5 will place a duty on planning authorities to maximise their use of previously developed land.

My Bill will require local authorities to produce capacity studies and audits. The Government may well say--I can see the Minister already rehearsing her lines--that they do not need the clause because of the national land use database, NLUD, which is worth considering for a minute. It is a partnership between the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, English Partnerships, local authorities and the Ordnance Survey. Its aim is to collate and publish information on brownfield sites available for redevelopment.

The information has been collated and assimilated and, according to the Deputy Prime Minister, it will be published shortly, but will it? Rumour has it that there is a problem about ownership and that the Government have not got the legislative authority to publish information that identifies the owner of a site. If that is a problem, the Bill, if enacted, could provide that authority. Will the Minister say whether those rumours are correct?

NLUD should have all the information available. I say "should have" because that depends on whether local authorities have provided the information. NLUD is only as good as the information that it receives. That is unlike the provision in the Bill that will put a duty on every local authority to identify every piece of land and building surplus to requirements and publish details in an annual booklet that is updated regularly. The NLUD proposal is hit and miss, and akin to the national register that we had in the 1980s when we were in office and set up a national register.

I believe that NLUD is too remote from the people. Only developers will want to use it. If an audit is published locally and is available in local libraries, people will have better access to it. That is the proposal in my Bill. If the purpose is to use brownfield sites and derelict buildings, what better way is there than to ensure that local authorities produce the audit and publish it themselves rather than Governments centrally having to have that information? It is not that a central Government audit will not work, but that it will not work as well as publishing an audit locally at every local authority level.

People may think that that is a slightly prejudiced view, but, in his report, Lord Rogers said about NLUD:

Lord Rogers does not agree with NLUD; he agrees with my Bill. The Minister should take that point very seriously. One of the aims of my annual audit is to put community pressure on land hoarders to do something with their lands and buildings, and that just will not happen under NLUD.

It is far easier to infill urban areas where the infrastructure is already available if that creates fewer problems than greenfield site development. I was surprised therefore that, on Tuesday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not mention any incentive in the Budget to disfavour greenfield site development in favour of

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brownfield site development. If there is no financial incentive to develop brownfield buildings and land, developers will always use greenfield sites because it is cheaper. The House will know that no VAT is charged on new build, but it is levied on the materials used to renovate existing structures. That is a reduction of almost one fifth on the cost of new build and an increase of one fifth on the cost of redevelopment. That is an important point. In the Budget--[Interruption.] I can hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) talking and what he says is important. He says that the Chancellor told the House that there would be an inquiry into the costs of stamp duty.

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