Traditional growth will choke South East with pollution and congestion
Traditional, unfettered economic growth is not an option for the South East unless we want to see air quality plummet and roads choked with traffic, according to an official report.The final report from the Commission on Sustainable Development in the South East run by the Institute for Public Policy Research outlines two stark options - the 'business as usual' approach which it claims will quickly lead to gridlock and soaring pollution, or what it terms 'smart growth'.
If the report is to be believed, smart growth would allow us to keep prosperity and improve quality of life by spreading economic benefits to all while protecting the environment.
The cost would be pulling in the reins on mushrooming house building, combating increases in traffic with wider congestion charging and more efficient use of energy and water.
According to the report the South East must increase the provision of affordable housing in the region, delivered through a range of providers but taking into account the need to create sustainable communities and provide adequate infrastructure.
The commission also questioned the wisdom of setting house building targets for the next twenty years, as advocated in the Kate Barker's Review of Housing Supply last year, and argues for greater flexibility in the planning of new homes, with a bigger say for local authorities when deciding the housing needs of their communities.
Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, commission chairman said: "The difficult challenge for the South East is to maintain its role as an economic powerhouse while at the same time protecting its environment and maintaining quality of life.
"IPPR concluded that a new approach to growth and consumption was needed.
"The goal should be to raise employment, GDP per head and prosperity per household right across the South East, and not simply to raise GDP in total by drawing more and more people into the South East.
"This would help prevent the drain of skills and people out of other parts of the UK."
The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) is among the cheerleaders for the findings of the report.
"It's hugely encouraging that a high-powered commission with such a variety of expertise is challenging both the Government's growth-at-all-costs strategy and Kate Barker's call for a huge increase in market housebuilding," said Henry Oliver, the CPRE's chief planning and housing campaigner.
"Instead the commission's report argues persuasively for smart growth that emphasises quality of life and environmental protection in this most pressurised English region.
"It rejects massive increases in housebuilding over what is currently being contemplated by the South East Regional Assembly. "And, quite rightly, it argues that an important part of the solution to the problems caused by household and economic growth is to help other, less prosperous regions catch up instead of being left further and further behind.
"We particularly welcome the commission's emphasis on the need for more subsidised, affordable housing to be built in the region as opposed to a massive increase in construction of market homes."
By Sam Bond