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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 July, 2003, 11:48 GMT 12:48 UK
Controversial homes project unveiled
Environmental campaigner have concerns about the plans
Details of the first phase of a massive and controversial government house building scheme in the south east of England have been announced on Wednesday.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has named the first sites to be developed under plans to build 200,000 homes to tackle a chronic shortage of affordable housing.

The five strategic sites lie in the Thames Gateway area of east and south-east London, Essex and Kent.

The plans have been criticised by environmental campaigners, who are worried about the fate of the green belt. Others have raise concerns over poorer air quality, worse traffic and overcrowding in schools and hospitals.

Details of the where, why and why not

The package of new house building was first announced by John Prescott in February.

Four key areas were highlighted then as areas for future development. These included the London-Cambridge M11 corridor, Milton Keynes, Thames Gateway and Ashford in Kent.

At the time Mr Prescott said the four "growth" areas, together with London, had the potential to deliver 300,000 more jobs and the extra homes over the next 15-20 years.

Empty houses

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Wednesday, he defended the building of more homes in the south east and called the Thames Gateway "the greatest area for development".

"These are long-term decisions. This is about how you make it happen," he said.

"For 10 years we have just let it lie there. This is the greatest area for development."

London/Thames Gateway: 120,000 homes by 2016
Ashford: 31,000 homes by 2031
South Midlands: 133,000 homes by 2016
Cambridge-Harlow: 26,450 by 2016

The government also intends to regenerate areas of need in the North - possibly demolishing housing seen as surplus.

On the programme, Mr Prescott dismissed as "crazy" any suggestion that people should be transported to the North to occupy the empty houses.

"Why shouldn't daughters and sons, who have been brought up in their families in the South East, have a chance to be able to live with their families?

"It's called sustainable communities."

Greenfield sites

Huge extra investment in the area's transport infrastructure, would ensure the developments were practical, he added.

Environmental groups are fearful that more house building in the south east of England would be detrimental to the environment.

The Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) said it believed the plans for the South East would smother thousands of acres of greenfield sites.

It was opposed to the creation of "dormitory-type" developments.

National: 128,000 (Nationwide BS July report)
South East (excluding London): 188,792 (Land Registry Jan-Mar)
Greater London: 240,126 (Land Registry Jan-Mar)

Over the next 30 years, more than 200,000 homes will be built, much of it on derelict land in north Kent and Essex.

But many residents, worried the "garden of England" will become a concrete jungle, believe the south east is already too crowded.

They say not enough money has been set aside to create a better infrastructure to support the new developments - such as improved transport links.

A Friends of the Earth spokesman feared that in Essex the new building would bring about "an enormous urbanisation".

And opposition MPs feared in Kent, it could lead to a lower standard of living for some people, in areas where there were already shortages of roads, GPs and schools.

The plans have been supported by some, including the Prince's Trust and the Council of Mortgage Lenders - which in the past has praised Mr Prescott's efforts to "address the imbalances in housing supply and demand".

Key points announced:

  • 130m for projects at the London end of the Gateway, including Stratford, the Royal Docks, Greenwich, Woolwich and Barking Reach.

  • 100m for North Kent

  • 91m for South Essex

  • More than 100m to be allocated shortly for projects awaiting approval.

  • Creation of Urban Development Corporations in Thurrock and East London.

    In addition:

  • New arrangements for the disposal of surplus public land to ensure that other public sector bodies have the first option to buy.

  • A joint English Partnerships/Housing Corporation competition to develop 56 sites in former new towns, producing up to 1,300 homes by 2005.

    The BBC's Jenny Scott
    "It will be the biggest building project for 50 years"

    Thousands of new homes planned
    05 Feb 03  |  England
    Anger over new homes plans
    05 Feb 03  |  England
    Head to head: Homes plans
    05 Feb 03  |  UK

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