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Thursday, July 30, 1998 Published at 13:40 GMT 14:40 UK

UK Politics

MPs criticise Prescott's 'vague' building policy

The sort of site which the MPs think should be developed

A committee of MPs has criticised the government for not doing enough to encourage the building of new houses on urban sites to protect valuable greenbelt land.

The Select Commitee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs said in a new report that the government's strategy was "well-intentioned but vague".

It also recommended that developers should not be allowed to build on greenfield sites if suitable urban, or 'brownfield' sites were available.

Resources questioned

[ image:  ]
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott earlier this year proposed various measures to encourage brownfield development.

These included making developers prove that no suitable urban site was available before planning permission was granted, giving `conferences' of local authorities power to determine the number of homes to be built regionally, and setting up a national database of recyclable land.

The committee noted this significant transfer of responsibility to regional and local level but said it was concerned about a lack of resources to deal with the extra work.

"There is no indication that the government intends to provide such resources," it said.

Quota for brownfield development

As well as criticising government policy, the MPs put forward some recommendations of their own.

The most important was that most new houses should be built on brownfield sites - the committee recommended an interim national target of at least 60%.

This compares to current rates ranging from 58% in the North West down to 48% in the North East.

The MPs said that if appropriate brownfield land was available, developers should not be given the alternative of building on greenfield sites.

The report noted that housing demand would remain high - estimates suggest an additional 4.4 million households in England alone by 2016.

Deputy Prime Minister and Environment Secretary John Prescott said he welcomed the committee's support for the government's increased emphasis on urban development.

But he added: "It is unfortunate that the committee did not take into account the Comprehensive Spending Review announcement of an extra £3.9bn in public resources for housing over the next three years.

"Housing Minister Nick Raynsford made it perfectly clear that future levels of investment in housing were dependent on the outcome of that review," he said.

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