John Prescott was today unveiling moves to speed up dramatically the supply of new homes – while vowing to protect the green belt from development.
The Deputy Prime Minister, in a key speech, was outlining how the extra millions allocated by Chancellor Gordon Brown will be used to tackle the housing crisis.
But he must also explain how he will avoid creating dormitory towns across the South-East, with critics already concerned at the apparent lack of funding for new schools, roads and hospitals.
Mr Prescott’s department yesterday won an extra £1.3 billion for the next three years, meaning it will be spending £7.2 billion a year on housing across the UK by 2007.
This gives it the financial clout to subsidise private developers to build the 200,000 homes that have been earmarked in four “growth areas” in the South-East – the Thames Gateway, Milton Keynes, the Stansted to Cambridge M11 corridor, and Ashford in Kent.
He will also aim to simplify the planning system to allow developments to progress more rapidly, especially in the Thames Gateway, where 120,000 homes are planned.
An urban development corporation – able to take a strategic overview of the area’s needs – has already been set up in the Gateway, and will pull together the planning work of six London borough councils.
But housing experts fear the ?150 million earmarked for new infrastructure in the growth areas will prove inadequate, creating suburban villages in which no one wants to live. Nigel Kersey, London director of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, said: “We are going to end up with the mistakes of the past, a massive urban nightmare.
“There is no evidence that they’re talking about providing these areas with the social infrastructure that’s required.”
The extra resources given to Mr Prescott’s department will provide an extra 10,000 new social housing units – which have replaced council houses – by 2007/8, an increase of 50 per cent. The Government has also vowed to protect the environment, saying that at least 60 per cent of all new housing will be on previouslydeveloped brownfield land. It says high standards will be met on preserving water and the use of recycled materials.
But the numbers fall far short of the Delegate venture fund targets set by economist Kate Barker in a major report prepared for the Chancellor and Deputy Prime Minister earlier this year.
She called for between 17,000 and 23,000 units of social housing a year, as well as between 70,000 and 120,000 new homes a year to stabilise the housing market – an investment that would cost up to £1.6billion a year. But with the increase in fundingtotalling £1.3billion over the three-year spending review period, the Government will come nowhere near her targets.
Never theless, Mr Prescott described the extra funding as an “excellent outcome”. He said it would allow new homes to be built “where people want to live” while tackling homelessness and regenerating deprived areas in the North.
He added: “We will protect the countryside and deliver the services and infrastructure needed for genuinely sustainable communities, which are safer, cleaner and greener.”