The regional plan is widely seen as the government’s flagship project for housebuilding throughout the country. It would see the half a million homes built in a broad corridor stretching from Buckinghamshire to Norfolk, as well as new industrial and business space and multiple road schemes.

However, the plans have been criticised by conservation groups for being “intrinsically damaging to the environment”, and failing to take climate change into account.

English Nature and the Countryside Agency have joined forces to make 19 submissions to the public examination condemning the plans, saying they are ‘contrary to the concept of sustainability’.

Multiple problems are cited with the plans, not least of which is the fear that the extra housing would cause a water crisis both through increased abstraction in a water scarce area, 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 flooding.

Friends of the Earth has also criticised the plans for the contribution they will make towards climate change. Currently, the plan contains no policy on climate change, no target for emissions reduction from the region and no action plan to reduce emissions in line with government targets.

“Unless it is changed, the East of England Plan will lead to a huge increase in the region’s contribution to climate change, with large and rapid increases in housing, car journeys and air travel,” said Mary Edwards, Friends of the Earth Campaigns Coordinator.

“So far, the Regional Assembly has been forced by Government to accommodate damaging demands for more housing and the expansion of Stansted airport within its Plan. But no matter how hard it tries to pretend otherwise, this is simply not sustainable. The Assembly should amend its Plan and tell Ministers that their current housing and aviation policies completely undermine their own promises to tackle climate change.”

The examination in public is the only opportunity to debate the Plan and question its impact. Despite the name, the public does not have the right to appear or be heard at the examination as attendance is by invitation only.

The Plan has run into some troubles already as the East of England Regional Assembly itself has withdrawn its support due to lack of central Government funding.

In a statement sent to appropriate government ministers, the Assembly said it: “deplores the government’s grossly inadequate funding of the transport infrastructure costs associated with the additional 478,000 houses planned for this region between 2001-2021. Bearing in mind that the Assembly’s acceptance of this massive growth was conditional upon adequate government provision of the necessary infrastructure; and mindful of Lord Rooker’s repeated written assurances that growth will not be imposed without the associated infrastructure, this Assembly wishes to make clear that it now regards its endorsement of the draft East of England Plan as suspended, pending a re-examination of the Government’s willingness to support its own aspirations adequately in financial terms.”

The panel of planning inspectors hearing the Examination – all appointed by the government – will report to the ODPM and a final report is due in 2007.

David Hopkins

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