Land News

Regional panel backs housing plan

BBC News , 15th October, 2004

A controversial plan to build nearly 500,000 homes across east England has been given initial backing.

An East of England Regional Assembly panel has backed the plans, which cover an area stretching from Norfolk to Buckinghamshire. Critics say the new housing would cause significant environmental damage and water shortages. The panel rejected proposals for a further 18,000 homes between Stansted and Cambridge.

'Rubber stamp'

The assembly's regional planning panel had been expected to give the rubber stamp to 478,000 proposed homes. The proposals will still need to be ratified by the full assembly in a meeting on 5 November before going to public consultation. Ministers are not expected to receive the authority's final recommendations until 2006. About 70% of the assembly is made up of local authority councillors and the remainder are from the commercial sector.

The housing would be mainly concentrated along the M1 and M11 motorways.

Areas expected to take the brunt of it include a 'growth corridor' from Peterborough through Cambridge, Stevenage and Harlow as well as Milton Keynes and the Thames Gateway Development. The plans have sparked opposition from environmentalists. BBC Radio 4 rural affairs correspondent Tom Heap said the feeling of "broad unease" had not grown into angry opposition among residents.


That is because they cannot as yet say "This is going to happen in a field near me," he stressed. North Hertfordshire Conservative councillor Richard Thake said the government was riding roughshod over local objections to push through the plans, which he believes will have a devastating effect on the area. He told the BBC: "The process is undemocratic. They maintain consultation is taking place but it's consultation which is very, very carefully selected.

"The assembly itself is a nominated assembly, with stakeholder groups of various interests including developer interests."

Mr Thake, who sits on the assembly's regional planning panel, said: "People are very frightened indeed about what might come out of all this."

On Thursday, a report by consultants Levett-Therivel warned development on such a large scale would cause a water crisis, threaten landscapes and destroy wildlife. It also talks of the need for new roads and of an increased risk of flooding.

'Community building'

The plans were defended by the minister for regeneration, Jeff Rooker.

He told Radio 4's Today: "We are not talking about a house building programme, we are talking a community building programme."

Lord Rooker said the planning applications for any of these developments will be taken by district council planning authorities, "not taken by central government in Westminster." The minister added that in around 18 months' time, the overall plan would go before an independent inquiry which "will test" both the claims of the government and those of the independent consultants. He said that even if all the government's housing plans for the next 20 years went ahead, "it would only take 1% more of green field land" for urban use.

'Extraordinary claim'

However, shadow housing minister John Hayes called this 1% calculation "an extraordinary claim".

He said Lord Rooker was "taking into account Britain's national parks and most remote areas".

Mr Hayes strongly opposes the proposal for 500,000 more homes in this area. "It is not the right thing to do", he said. "This is a blitz of Britain's countryside. It means bulldozing acres and acres of precious green fields. It is certainly not right." Tom Heap said that when all the houses were fully occupied, the number would probably exceed the population of Birmingham.

"In a sense it's not surprising a development of this size should have a massive environmental impact," he said.

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