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Tuesday, 7 March, 2000, 13:32 GMT
Thousands of new homes planned
Campaigners have fought to keep green belts green
Plans to build thousands more new homes in south-east England - prompting fears of more countryside being suffocated by urban sprawl - are to be unveiled by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

Why do we need new homes?
Increasing migration to south-east England
Spiralling divorce rates
Increased longevity
London property boom
Increase in single person home ownership
Mr Prescott is believed to favour a proposal which would see 43,000 homes being built in the region each year over the next five years.

But, under pressure to save green spaces from disappearing under concrete, he wants most of it to be of high density and built on reclaimed industrial and urban "brownfield" sites.

Mr Prescott's statement in the Commons on Tuesday follows a series of reports on housing needs in south-east England.

Furious reaction

The most significant came from Professor Stephen Crow, chairman of a panel of inspectors which last year recommended that 1,098,500 homes be built - the equivalent of five cities the size of Southampton - with 50% on brownfield sites.

The plan, which would have meant 55,000 new houses being built each year over 20 years, sparked a furious reaction from environmental groups and residents.

In an attempt to ease fears of the new homes swamping the countryside, Mr Prescott is expected to announce rules to prevent urban sprawl with at least 50,000 properties on the Thames Gateway, an area stretching eastwards from London where there are large tracts of previously developed land.

From north to south
London and south-east England population up 1.2m between 1981 and 1998
23,000 left north of England between 1994 and 1997
70,000 people moved to the south-east in same period
But the Tories have gone on the attack over Mr Prescott's plans, accusing him of trying to "force" almost one million new homes on south-east England - 200,000 more than planning chiefs in the area say they can cope with.

While environmentalists have given a guarded welcome to the government's "cautious" proposals, shadow environment secretary Archie Norman said: "I think this is a very sad day for all those people who live in the Kentish countryside, or the villages and towns in Surrey and Sussex, because it means we are going to be seeing countryside lost forever."

"Brownfield" sites
Previously developed land which is or was occupied by a permanent structure
May occur in both built-up and rural areas
Includes defence buildings and land used for mineral extraction and waste disposal
Excludes land used for agriculture, forests and woodland
Excludes previously undeveloped land in built-up areas such as parks
Mr Norman said the government should convert inner city accommodation in the north instead of encouraging people to move south.

But Housing Minister Nick Raynsford said Mr Norman's figures were "completely wrong" and that the government's plans were aimed at regenerating inner cities while ensuring most new homes were built on brownfield sites.


He said there was a need to build homes in areas where many people live, saying: "You can't simply by putting up the shutters in the south east automatically encourage people to redevelop and relocate in the north."

One reason for the need for new homes is the booming London property market, which is having a ripple effect in the south east.

Housing facts
20.5m homes in England
24m homes by 2021
5.8m one person households in 1996
8.5m one person households by 2021
But the consortium of south-east planning authorities, Serplan, has said no more than 33,400 homes could be built annually between 1996 and 2016, without serious damage to the region's environment and quality of life.

And Kent County Council leader Sandy Bruce-Lockhart said the government's proposals were "unacceptable".

He said: "What we do not need is large scale housing on greenfield sites. Our Kent countryside is not negotiable."

New homes
1979: 210,000 built
1997: 149,000
1998: 141,000
In East Sussex, council leaders said the poor road network could not carry the weight of traffic the proposed housing allocation would bring.

Liberal Democrat planning spokesman Mike Hancock said: "John Prescott is clearly fooling himself if he believes that these new measures will go far enough. Talking numbers in Whitehall will not protect greenfield sites."

But Tony Bosworth, housing campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said Mr Prescott seemed to have adopted a "cautious" approach, adding: "Whether he has gone far enough to save the region's countryside from over-development remains to be seen."

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13 Oct 99 |  UK Politics
Prescott under pressure over housing
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