House-building boom ‘will cost billions in infrastructure’

The house-building planned for South East England will bring billions in hidden costs as additional environmental infrastructure needed to support the new homes is built, an Environment Agency report has said.

Nearly £7.5bn will go on dealing with wastewater from the new developments, £10bn on new waste plants and £3bn on protecting the 100,000 new homes to be built on flood plains from flooding, according to the Hidden Infrastructure report, published on Monday.

Most of the resulting £20bn bill will be picked up by central Government and local authorities, on top of the costs of providing for increased water demand covered by water companies, such as building new reservoirs.

To avoid escalating costs and environmental mayhem, the Government needs to plan for the longer term, take infrastructure needs into account when deciding the location and design of new development, and factor the costs of new infrastructure into its plans.

The costs per new house of providing environmental infrastructure such as water and waste services comes to £20,200, according to the report, but costs can more than double for water-stressed areas. Fixing leaks and turning around a legacy of under-investment in sewerage systems also needs to be considered, said EA chief executive Barbara Young:

“There has been a historic legacy of under-investment and poor maintenance in water and sewer capacity. Last year, nearly 5000 properties were flooded by sewers and more than 3500 million litres of water a day was lost through leaks. There is an urgent need to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill and the unavoidable impacts of climate change will increase the risk of flooding,” she said.

“New growth can be achieved without harming the environment, but with all of these pressures, early investment and careful planning is critical – or we risk seeing our environmental infrastructure beginning to fail.”

The Government plans a massive expansion of housing in the South East, concentrating on four major “growth areas” as well as 29 “new growth points.” The region will most likely see 1.5m new homes constructed over the next 20 years.

Goska Romanowicz

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