'More homes not a panacea', MPs warn
"Characterless urban sprawl" could be created by government plans to build 200,000 new homes in south-east England, MPs have warned.
In a strongly-worded report a cross-party inquiry said the impact of the scheme had not been properly considered and that it could cost as much as £20bn to provide facilities like schools, hospitals and transport.
The MPs said the environmental effects of the building work could be "unsustainable", with excessive pressure on the countryside and on water supplies in the driest area of Britain.
The inquiry team looked at proposals in John Prescott's "sustainable communities plan", which was launched in February.
The extra homes would be built in so-called growth areas: Ashford in Kent, Milton Keynes, the Thames Gateway east of London and a corridor between London and Cambridge.
According to the report, the impact of developing so many homes in one of Europe's most densely-populated areas has not been fully assessed.
There is ample evidence that even the enlarged house-building programme in the South East will have little impact on house prices
And it warns: "Building more homes is not a panacea and the impact of such a housing programme on the environment could be unsustainable."
Launching his plan, Mr Prescott made a pledge to focus development on brownfield land and to "maintain or increase" greenbelt land in every English region, by creating new green spaces in towns and cities.
But Tuesday's report suggests that such a large development would inevitably put pressure on greenfield sites
The 200,000 new homes would be on top of the 900,000 new homes planned for the South East between 1996 and 2016.
The criticism was led by Labour MP and chairman of the Commons environment select committee Andrew Bennett.
He said: "We are far from convinced that the government's plan to increase house building in the South East will be sustainable.
"It could create characterless urban sprawl serving commuters into London, rather than vibrant communities with affordable homes, jobs and leisure
facilities which the government wants."
Mr Bennett said the impact on the environment "does not seem to have been considered".
He said it was unclear how water would be supplied, while the costs of "rail links, schools and hospitals will be enormous" and possibly not justified.
The report accepted that housing in the South East was in short supply and that it was too expensive.
And while it said that house building targets were not being met and homes were beyond the reach of many households, the government had not found the solution.
It said: "The government's objective to bring down house prices is unlikely to be
"There is ample evidence that even the enlarged house-building programme in the South East will have little impact on house prices."