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The BBC's Environment correspondent Margaret Gilmore
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Tuesday, 7 March, 2000, 22:08 GMT
New homes for crowded south-east
Campaigners have fought to keep green belts green
Thousands of homes are to be built in the already crowded south-east of England.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott told MPs on Tuesday that under new planning guidelines published on Tuesday, local authorities in the south-east should plan to build an extra 43,000 new homes a year.

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
The guidelines address some of the concerns aired by green campaigners and those calling for more affordable housing to be made available amid the current boom in London property prices.

Mr Prescott said that while house building in the south-east would increase by 10%, and by 22% in London, building would be on "brownfield first, greenfield last".

But despite an emphasis on affordable housing, homelessness charity Shelter said the failure to provide specific targets could leave many people still struggling for accommodation.

Shelter director Chris Holmes said: "We must place the needs of those on low incomes and homeless people at the centre of new provision.

We must place the needs of those on low incomes and homeless people at the centre of new provision

"Otherwise, we will face the worst case scenario where we build nearly a million homes but still see thousands living in appalling conditions or stuck in B&Bs because they cannot afford to rent privately or to access social housing."

Mr Prescott said the new targets were a reduction on those proposed by Professor Stephen Crow, whose government-commissioned survey said 1.1 million new homes were needed.

The Royal College of Nursing said its members were among those forced out of London by the property boom.

"The announcement will help as part of a wider solution to making affordable housing available to essential workers," said a spokesman.

Building compromise

Under the proposals 860,000 new homes will be built over a 20-year period.

Mr Prescott said: "New housing developments can be well designed, attractive, well located and sustainable places to live. They do not have to take up endless acres of our beautiful countryside."

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
Mr Prescott said the potential for "high-quality, well-planned" town extensions would be investigated in Milton Keynes and Ashford in Kent

Responding for the Conservatives, environment spokesman Archie Norman said the "sheer volume" of the proposed development would be greeted with "dismay" across the south-east.

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.

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.

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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