Prescott “declares war on wasteful use of land”

The UK Deputy Prime Minister gave indications that the Government may reduce the number of homes to be built on greenfield sites. He refused to say how many new homes will be built by 2016, but promised that brownfield sites will be targeted.

“I am not going to get into the game of bandying figures,” John Prescott told the audience at a Fabian Society/ SERA conference. “What I can say however is that this Government will not be concreting over the South East.”

Speculation has been fierce over whether the Government will back down from the officially-recommended figure of 1.1m new homes for the South East by 2016. Announcements are expected this month on the number of new homes for both the South and the East of England, as well as publication of revised guidance on housing development.

“It’s taking a little bit longer than originally planned, but that’s because there are personal interventions from Gordon Brown and Tony Blair,” Friends of the Earth housing campaigner Tony Bosworth told edie. Bosworth believes that Prime Minister Blair fears “some sort of electoral meltdown in the South East” if the Government goes ahead with plans for 1.1m new homes.

“It’s not just the South – there is also pressure coming from some Labour councils in the North that fear that if too many homes are built in the South they will suffer from a drain of skilled workers moving south,” says Bosworth.

The Government is also coming under pressure from local authorities who believe the recommended number of new homes are an impossibility. In the case of Surrey, many new homes will be built on brownfield sites but there will still be thousands of ‘prescribed’ homes that would have to be built on greenfields. But with 85% of Surrey’s greenfield sites under ‘greenbelt’ protection, decisions about where to locate greenfield homes would be the cause of endless headaches and battles with residents.

Prescott’s speech also shed some light on what may be contained within the Revised Planning Guidance on Housing Development. “Many modern-day housing estates do not make the best use of scarce land resources,” said Prescott. “The Georgian terraces in Bath, Harrogate and Islington are four times less wasteful in their use of land than a modern-day Brookside style housing estate.” Sounds like increasing housing density may be a central tenet of the imminent revised guidance.

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