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Monday, February 23, 1998 Published at 16:41 GMT



UK: Politics

Towns to take burden of new homes
image: [ Demand for new houses is rising as more people live alone ]
Demand for new houses is rising as more people live alone

The government has unveiled plans to encourage house builders to switch from the countryside to towns.


BBC correspondent Richard Wilson reports on the passions the issue generates (2'32")
Speaking in the House of Commons, the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, said the government's main concern was "to develop sustainable communities, both now and in the future."

At the heart of the government's plans is the announcement that developers are to be forced to build 60% of all new homes in towns and cities.

At present, only around 40% of housing development is in urban areas.


[ image: John Prescott wants 60% of new homes in towns]
John Prescott wants 60% of new homes in towns
But the issue, he said, had become clouded with "unhelpful language, crude figures and confused statistics."

"For example the term 'brownfield' is not helpful. I propose to talk instead about 'recycled land' which can be in the cities, towns or villages," he said.

Mr Prescott said recent figures predicted that around 170,000 houses a year would be built over the next 25 years.

"This is because of the population growth and because couples are living longer and separating more often," he said.

Financial backing

Mr Prescott's pledges in the House of Commons are likely to be backed by tax changes in the budget on March 17.

Options being considered by the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, include a windfall tax on profits made by developers who build in the countryside.

The government also hopes to encouraged builders to look at the possibility of recycling so-called "brownfield" sites, land previously put to industrial use.

Value added tax on these could be scrapped in the government's rethink.

Mr Prescott is also under pressure to revise the estimate of how many homes will be needed in the future.

Expected on-going growth in the number of people living alone led to the prediction of demand for millions of extra houses. But many now feel the figure is too high.

The environmental group Friends of the Earth said it welcomed the government's initiative and hoped it would address the real problem.

Dr Simon Festing, housing campaigner, said: "Mr Prescott can't afford to dither while the countryside withers.

"We need clear action to save the countryside and revitalise our towns and cities.

"It is not enough simply to pass the problem down to the regions."
 





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