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Friday, 4 October, 2002, 06:11 GMT 07:11 UK
Region faces 400,000 new homes
New houses
Housing could see villages swallowed up

East Anglia is facing the prospect of 400,000 new homes over the next 15 years - many on green field sites, a BBC News Online investigation has revealed.

Conservation groups have expressed concern about the figures, but the East of England Development Agency (EEDA) has warned if development land is not provided, the region will lose business to other parts of the country or even abroad.

Housing development could see villages near Stansted Airport in Essex swallowed up and a new settlement in Cambridgeshire

While new towns such as Milton Keynes and Stevenage are set to expand into green field areas - and other more established regional centres such as Norwich and Ipswich are also facing the need for more homes.

Land is still being wasted in a criminal way

Henry Oliver, CPRE

Figures from local county structure plans across the east region and development agency studies suggest a scale of development that will lead to major planning battles for decades to come.

Steve Cox, the EEDA infrastructure and development manager, said the aim would be for housing development "without loss of green belt" where possible.

But, he added: "There will be a requirement for housing on the edge of towns and green field land sites and asking whether new settlements are required.

"We have to work to make sure any development is done in the most sensitive and sensible way and supported with an infrastructure."

He said the danger of putting a stop to building was damaging the local and British economy.

Expansion pressures
Milton Keynes area
Cambridge area
Stansted area

"We are risking further over-heating, an exhausting of affordable homes, and businesses will vote with their feet and go to places where they can afford to set up.

"That could be somewhere else in Britain or somewhere abroad."

He said there will be pressure on areas near London such as Harlow, Stevenage and Basildon and the Stansted area, while areas such as Luton and Dunstable are in need of regeneration.

Mr Cox said Cambridge "will be a subject of growth" and proposals for an airport at Alconbury may free up the land at Cambridge airport for development.

He also believes there are pressures for industrial and housing land near Ipswich and Norwich.

But the reasons behind the official estimates of the need for 400,000 new homes have been questioned by some planning experts.

Only estimates

Henry Oliver, head of planning for the Council for the Protection of Rural England, said the 750,000 empty houses in the UK are not taken into account when considering housing needs.

He said planners often forget that the estimates are only estimates and may be wrong.

"We are in danger of treating these figures as targets," he said.

Mr Oliver said even if the estimates turn out to be accurate, planners need to push for better use of the available land.

'Best land use'

At present housebuilders are producing 25 homes per hectare, while the Government range is for 30 to 50 homes per hectare.

"Land is still being wasted in a criminal way," he said.

"Before we release green field land we should make the best use of the land we develop."

Hugh Ellis, planning advisor with Friends of the Earth, said without national planning, industry will grow and more homes will be built in East Anglia and the south of England.

"People will build more houses and end up with a damaged environment and more importantly end up with an awful quality of life," he said.

"The problem is these issues are being abandoned to the private sector."

See also:

18 Sep 02 | England
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