Region told to ‘recycle’ empty homes

Restoring thousands of homes standing empty in North West England could help boost housing stock without contributing to urban sprawl, rural campaigners have said.

House-building plans for the North West fail to tap into the potential of 130,000 properties standing empty – the highest number in any English region – rural pressure group Campaign to Protect Rural England said. If restored, these homes could reduce the need for new development and traffic-generating urban sprawl.

Over 400,000 new homes are planned for the North West in the next 15 years under the draft Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS), the Government’s master plan for the region’s development.

The new settlements would add to the region’s carbon emissions, especially if built on greenfield land away from previously developed areas which would force inhabitants to commute, CPRE said in response to the plan. New housing on this scale could also strain water resources, sewage and public transport systems and could be vulnerable to floods.

“No ‘climate proofing,’ such as flood risk assessment, has been done, and the Environment Agency say that even with energy efficiency measures this level of housing will just increase our carbon emissions,” said the CPRE’s Andy Yuille.

He said that the right decisions now could prevent future emissions if planning focused on “creating compact communities where people can live, work and play – instead of the spread of low density, traffic-generating sprawl. The recently published Stern Review on the economics of climate change recognises this.”

“We believe the priorities for new housing should be to meet the needs of the homeless and those on limited incomes and that the great majority of homes can be sited on existing “brownfield” land close to workplaces, shops and services,” he said.

Friends of the Earth’s Frank Kennedy said he was hopeful that the RSS would bring climate-sensitive development: “It’s heartening that the North West Regional Assembly has now agreed to include a strong climate policy. If the Panel goes ahead and recommends this, the North West could have climate-sensitive plans in place ahead of the national Government’s Climate Change Act – promised in the Queen’s Speech.”

The draft Regional Spatial Strategy sets out the scale, type and location of development for the North West region until 2021. A consultation on the RSS closed on 12 June 2006 and an Examination in Public finished last week.

For more details on the North West RSS see here.

Goska Romanowicz

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