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Ministers back down on RDA asset 'fire sale'

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Ministers have backed down over plans for a “fire sale” of regional development agency assets with the “majority” of the outgoing agencies’ land and property to be passed to the national housing quango.

Business minister Mark Prisk said the government had agreed to transfer land and property assets owned by the soon-to-be-abolished regional development agencies to the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA).

Mr Prisk said the HCA will own the assets and liabilities, with local communities involved in decisions about future development plans to maximise the benefits to economic growth and regeneration in their areas.

He said transfer would be effective on 19 September 2011.

The move comes after fear in the regions that the RDAs assets - most recently valued at £500m - would be sold off.

Each RDA was asked to develop disposal plans for their assets, with many recommending that they either be passed to local authorities, local enterprise partnerships, or the HCA so that their regeneration potential can be realised.

However, in April, ministers announced an early sell-off of one in five of the agencies assets, sparking anger in the regions.

Mr Prisk said: “The transfer of RDA land and property assets to the Homes and Communities Agency underlines our commitment to making sure these assets are used to support economic growth and regeneration.”

The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (DBIS) said the assets would be transferred under the Housing & Regeneration Act 2008, with the HCA holding legal title to the assets and local partners acting as “stewards, providing local advice to the HCA”.

DBIS said the transfer would apply to the majority of the RDAs assets, but details of the individual assets to be included would be announced when the order to transfer has been signed off.

Junior communities minister Baroness Hanham said “Our plans mean local partners will be able to work with the HCA to influence the development of the land and property assets previously owned by the RDAs, ensuring the economic and regeneration benefits have the best possible impact in their areas.”

Shadow business minister Gordon Marsden said ministers have been “forced back from a full-blown fire sale”. “They’ve been embarrassed - by their double-standards in ‘gifting’ London’s Assets to [the Mayor of London] while denying them to the regions - and by the way they bullied RDAs who produced asset plans to keep them there,” he said.

“We will now be questioning [DBIS] ministers sharply to see whether the HCA will simply be a ‘fig-leaf’ of localism in determining future of RDA assets while in reality decision making drifts in Whitehall.

“The principle we have argued consistently is that Assets meant for the regions should stay in the regions. They’re crucial for regional growth … That means local authorities and LEPs must have a leading say over what happens to assets in their areas. Anything less would be a further trainwreck from this government which would do little to boost growth across England’s regions.

 

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