East England homes plan approved but could cause water shortages and congestion

The East of England Regional Assembly (EERA) has given its backing to a controversial plan to build nearly half a million homes in an area stretching between Buckinghamshire and Norfolk, amid much criticism from environmental groups.

The 478,000 new homes are designed to meet the affordable housing needs of key workers for the economic growth of the region and are said to be required by 2021.

However, environmental groups say the plans will cause a water crisis, destroy wildlife and build over greenbelt land.

Councillor John Reynolds, Chair of the Regional Planning Panel said: “The Panel listened carefully to the views of local authorities and other stakeholders, and the Regional Spatial Strategy we are now recommending to the Assembly sets out an ambitious challenge to make the East of England a better place to live and work.”

However, the planning panel did reject the Government’s request for an additional 18,000 new homes in the London-Stansted-Cambridge-Peterborough corridor, saying that feedback from a number of independent environmental and economic studies suggested the case had not been adequately made.

The Panel have also said the plans would need £1.6 billion public subsidy for infrastructure to make the development sustainable.

“Having now agreed to deliver a major step change in housing development, including more affordable housing, we look forward to the Government supporting the Strategy through the early provision of essential infrastructure,” Cllr Reynolds added.

The plans have been criticised by environmental groups who say that development on such a scale will cause multiple problems. A report by independent consultants Levett-Therivel says the plans would cause a water crisis, both through increased abstraction and use and through the increased risk of flooding from extra run off after tarmac is laid over drainage grounds. Many of the areas earmarked for development are already prone to extreme flooding.

In addition, the report claims the development would threaten landscapes, damage historic towns and destroy wildlife.

Mary Edwards, Friends of the Earth’s East of England regional campaigner said: “This new report highlights the gaps between the Government’s rhetoric and reality. Building half a million new homes and associated infrastructure in the East of England will have a devastating effect on the region’s environment. The Government should abandon its short-sighted, unsustainable house-building plans and economic growth at all costs and concentrate on regenerating existing deprived communities across the country.”

The Green Party in the East of England also opposes the plans, saying that the majority of house built will not be affordable anyway, as they will be built by private developers for private profits and that the numbers proposed far outstrip actual regional housing demand.

It points to the rapid housing growth areas in the Home Counties, where building has often made prices rise faster.

Additionally, the region does not have vast areas of brownfield land to cope with the housing demanded, so the plans will mean building over open countryside causing immense damage and further demand for gravel extraction.

The Green Party ask if it is just a co-incidence that such huge development in an area of low brownfield land capacity has anything to do with Government plans to make Stansted Airport “the largest on the planet”?

In a ‘Housing Quiz Challenge’, the Green Party asks John Prescott a series of questions about sustainable development:

“John, isn’t the reality that this massive housing development proposal will increase road traffic, waste, water consumption, energy consumption and increase CO2 emissions? How is that sustainable? If you want new developments to be sustainable, why do you refuse to require developers to install solar panels on the roofs of new houses? Why are you underfunding local recycling? And, how do you expect Essex, the driest county in the UK to cope with its allocation of well over 100,000 new houses, when it already imports water from other counties in the region?”

“Why don’t you come clean and admit that all your talk of sustainable communities is waffle. This massive housing proposal is an economic decision not a housing decision. Is it not the case that this proposal suits very well the private volume-house building industry, the aviation industry, and the major roadbuilding construction firms who have long been looking at the flat, open region with fond anticipation that someone like you would let them loose on it?”

The Regional Spatial Strategy will now be submitted to a meeting of the full Regional Assembly on November 5th, before being submitted to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the start of a fourteen week consultation period. Final agreement is expected in 2006.

By David Hopkins

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