New homes threat to countryside

Wednesday, 22 November, 2006

A RURAL watchdog last night warned building 500,000 new homes in the East of England will place huge pressure on the environment and 'carve up the countryside'.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has collected more than 1,200 signatures on a petition against the plans.

And a further 800 people have written messages to Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), opposing the move.

Lawrence Wragg, CPRE's East of England Region Chairman, said: 'Their comments reveal huge public concern that this plan will allow developments that will irreversibly damage the environment and carve up the countryside.'

As part of the draft East of England Plan, drawn up by the regional assembly, Suffolk is expected to accommodate an extra 61,700 homes and Essex another 124,500 by 2021.

But, as the Ms Kelly considers the proposal, the CPRE has called for Green Belts to be better protected, extra investment in public transport instead of new roads and new housing developments to be more focused on brownfield sites.

Ms Kelly is due to publish her thoughts on the plan in the middle of December, which will be followed by a further period of consultation. It is expected to be finalised in spring 2007.

Mr Wragg said: 'Ruth Kelly has a great opportunity to prove her commitment to sustainable development. Her revised plan could be the nightmare before Christmas or a great gift to start the festive season.'

David Ruffley, Conservative MP for Bury St Edmunds, shared the CPRE's concerns.

He said: 'I think to have 500,000 new homes in the East of England in the 15 years is stark staring bonkers when you remember that the Government has no plans to properly resource schools, hospitals, roads and other essential infrastructure to serve any of these new plans.

'They are putting the cart before the horse. Until the East of England gets a clear undertaking from whatever Government that region will be properly resourced, as far as I'm concerned they can stuff this plan and consign it to the dustbin where it belongs.'

Dr Wil Gibson, of Suffolk Acre, a rural campaign group, called for the growth to be carefully planned.

He said: 'What I am more concerned about is that it meets the needs of affordable housing.

'There are issues around transport infrastructure that need to be looked at and also water use because this is one of the driest areas in the country. There is also a need to integrate these new communities into the wider communities.'

A DCLG spokesman claimed extra homes were needed to boost housebuilding rates, which he said had halved over the past 30 years, at the same time as demand has jumped by a third.

'If we don't build more homes then less than a third of today's 10-year-olds will be able to afford a place of their own in twenty years time,' he said.

'But we are clear that we are not providing more homes at any cost. We want to see local councils and developers delivering high quality, well-designed family homes with gardens and green spaces. The East of England is only 7% developed.

"It also means protecting and enhancing the countryside and providing green spaces in a safe, healthy local environment. We are determined that future and existing residents' needs - for parks, jobs, services and decent homes - are met.

'This year, 74% of all new homes were built on previously developed land - up from 56% in 1997, thanks to our brownfield first planning policy."