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Monday, 12 June, 2000, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
Showdown looms over new houses
Housebuilding
Disagreement continues about new house numbers
The government is on collision course with local councils in south east England after they rejected its proposals on the level of new house-building.

The South East Regional Planning Authority (Serplan) rejected by 38 votes to 30 a plan put forward by Environment Secretary John Prescott to build 43,000 new homes a year.

Instead, Serplan opted by 39-30 in favour of a Conservative proposal for 33,000 houses annually.

However, planning minister Nick Raynsford said the government would consider both points of view before making a final decision.

Mr Raynsford said he regretted that Serplan's "tradition of cross-party consensus" had been set aside in favour of party-political division.

He accused the Tories of "playing politics" with people's homes and said voting against Labour's compromise proposals, which had the backing of Serplan's officers, was "cynical and reckless".

'The wrong houses'

Opposition to the higher figure had been led by shadow environment secretary Archie Norman, who said the decision showed that local councillors were "standing up for their residents."

He said that a statement by Mr Raynsford at the weekend that the government would ignore the councillors' views was "outrageous".

"The government is committed to building the wrong homes in the wrong places, more than half will be built on greenfields, countryside will be concreted over for ever and the vicious cycle of migration from the inner cities will continue."

Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Don Foster said that the government had done "nothing more than stick its finger in the wind when it came up with plans for new homes in the south east.

'Splitting the difference'

"It has simply split the difference between the recommendations made in the Crow report and by the local authorities.

"These targets will be impossible to achieve without introducing measures to maximise the development of brownfield sites."

Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, leader of Kent County Council, said the government's total was far too high and he was delighted by the decision.

Brian Wilson, director of Serplan criticised the government proposals for being "stronger on presentation and good intentions than they are on the means and policies of achieving them. Central government has failed to give local government the tools to do the job," he said.

Greenfield threat

The row was sparked by an inquiry into Serplan's original target carried out by a panel chaired by Professor Stephen Crow.

This recommended October that 1.1 million new houses should be built between 1996 and 2016 but Mr Prescott rejected this and suggested the compromise figure of 43,000 a year.

But those opposed to an increase said additional home-building would be disastrous for the environment.

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