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Last Updated: Friday, 21 April 2006, 09:32 GMT 10:32 UK
South: Housing boom
Ian Paul
Ian Paul
Producer Politics Show
BBC South

South in the grip of the driest period for 80 years

As you struggle up the garden with a bucket of rainwater this summer, your first thoughts may not naturally turn to new house building.

One of the reasons so many of us will be unable to water our gardens with a hosepipe this summer is because here in the South there are just too many gardens - and more importantly, too many houses.

All of them needing that scarce resource H2O.

Since we do not really have enough of a liquid asset to supply the houses we have, it might be thought not the smartest move to build more.

Yet that is the plan - the South East Plan, to be precise, which envisages building close to 600,000 extra homes in the region over the next 20 years.

It will not just be H2O that is in short supply, of course - all those people living in all those new homes will also want roads to drive on, schools to send their kids to, shops to spend their money in, and somewhere to dump all the rubbish they generate.

Can the infrastructure take the strain? Will the cost of all those new developments be urban sprawl, a degraded environment and a steadily declining quality of life?

Or will it all help to drive further and faster the country's economic powerhouse of a region?

As well as numbers, The Plan also takes a view about what sort of housing it should be - one in three is to be an affordable home.

We do still have a rather older form of affordable housing - the council house. But here it is the government that has a Plan.

Deputy PM John Prescott has set a target for the standard that all social housing has to reach by 2010 - it should be warm, weatherproof and have reasonably modern facilities.

In 1997, claims the government, 2.1m homes failed to meet the target.

To pay for the improvements, councils have been offered three options:

  • An Arms-Length Management Organisation (ALMO) takes over - the council retains ownership but rents and repairs are the responsibility of the ALMO
  • Private Finance Initiative (PFI) - the council signs a deal with a private investor, which gets a share in the housing stock in exchange for pumping in new money
  • Stock transfer - a housing association buys the stock from the council and takes over outright

There is also a so-called Fourth Option, being canvassed heavily by the campaign group Defend Council Housing - the council keeps its housing stock and manages it itself.

Councils across the country either already have or are in the process of consulting their tenants about which option they want.

Sean Humphries
Sean Humphries: It is about affordable rents

In Brighton, the campaign for the hearts and minds of council tenants is hotting-up.

Politics Show South followed Sean Humphries of Defend Council Housing as he tried to convince people they wanted to stay as they are:

"It is a simple campaign about affordable rents, it is about secure tenancies and it is about having accountable landlords.

"The reality is, if we get stock transfer, the rents will go up, tenancies will change - we no longer have secure tenancies and no longer have accountable landlords.

"At the moment if we are unhappy with our housing situation, we can vote them out."

Councillor Simon Burgess
Councillor Simon Burgess has different opinion

Councillor Simon Burgess, the leader of Brighton and Hove council, has a rather different take: "There is a much needed investment in the council housing stock and a funding gap of some 100m - the kind of investment we need to bring up all the houses to a Decent Home Standard.

"Frankly the only way we can raise that money is through a transfer but very much a transfer to a purpose-built; local; not-for-profit; as tenant-led as possible; organisation."

So what do you think? Are we trying to build too many homes?

Should environmental needs be more important than people's need for somewhere to live?

Has the government got it right with its thinking on council houses?

Send us an email and Peter Henley can put your thoughts to our panel of guests.

The Politics Show

Join Peter Henley live this Sunday from a new housing development in Shoreham-on-Sea.

The Politics Show on Sunday 30 April 2006 at 12.00pm on BBC One.

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