Tuesday, January 27, 1998 Published at 10:02 GMT
Labour homes policy comes under fire
Britain faces a looming homes crisis with at least 4.4 million more needed by 2016
Government proposals to build millions of homes on green belt land are coming under attack as opposition forces gather to press for a change in policy to protect the British countryside.
Conservative MPs are calling on the government to insist that at least two-thirds of new homes are built on so-called 'brown-field' sites - urban areas which need cleaning up.
Liberal Democrats want to raise that figure to three-quarters, and press Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to block any projects outside towns until the government has set out its policy.
He supported the idea of building two million houses in the countryside to avoid overcrowding in cities and towns.
But Mr Prescott, who as Secretary of State for Environment has overall responsibility for house building, has since backed away from the controversial policy.
He now proposes that at least half the new homes should be built on brown-field sites.
But with critics saying that is still not good enough, both the Tories and Liberal Democrats are likely to cross swords with Labour in the Commons and demand tighter controls on green belt building.
The looming homes crisis has come as experts predict that demand for housing will be far greater in the next century than previously thought.
An initial projection of 4.4 million new households from 1991 to 2016 is now thought to be one million too low.
Experts say that while the population will remain stable, the number of people living alone will increase, putting pressure on existing housing.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation says that the government needs to double annual funding for low-cost homes planned by local councils and housing associations.
Groups such as Friends of the Earth and the Council for the Protection of Rural England are also battling to preserve green belt areas.