Radical plan to shake up housing

GREEN BELT land will have to be sacrificed to housing in a drive to ensure millions more people can afford to buy their own home, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has warned.

Mr Prescott says the Government now planned to give the go-ahead for building two million more homes in the UK in the next decade - on top of what it already wants.

His comments have succeeded in re-igniting the debate over house-building in Kent and sparked fresh complaints that large swathes of countryside will inevitably be swallowed up.

investment land

Two parts of the county - Ashford and Kent Thameside - are already earmarked for significant growth under Government plans likely to result in 116,000 homes built in the county by 2021.

But the Government now seems set to go much further after a report called for double the number of affordable homes to be built in the UK.

Mr Prescott said developers would be forced to pay windfall taxes and councils instructed to find more sites for homes in a bid to rein in house price inflation.

"The most important thing is to get the numbers up and to get houses people can afford. There has to be a step change and that means changing the delivery mechanism," he said.

The Barker Report suggested between 70,000 and 120,000 extra homes would be needed each year to meet demand and help curb spiraling house prices.

County council leaders swiftly condemned the report but there was support for its conclusions among house builders.

Kent county Council leader Cllr sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart (Con) said: "It is yet another proposal for more building in the countryside and we will oppose that.

"Kent has a substantial land bank in the growth areas of north Kent and Ashford and we should be concentrating on those. The reason houses are not being built is because of the lack of the community infrastructure."

housing land

Ashford MP Damian Green said: "This will mean more building on the green belt. but the worst of the propositions is that planning matters will be done on a regional basis, meaning no-one in Kent will have much power to influence planning decisions."

However, the National Housebuilder Federation said the report could not be ignored and the KCC opposition Labour group leader Cllr Mike Eddy said "somebody had to bite the bullet" to resolve the housing crisis.

Spokesman Pierre Williams said: "No-one wants to see Kent concreted over but the reality is it never will be. People have been brainwashed into thinking that is the case. most of the homes we need can be built on brown field sites."

About 170,000 homes are currently being built each year but 230,000 new households are forming - a shortage of 60,000, he said.

In her report, former Bank of England economist Kate Barker said just three new homes were being built in Britain for every 1,000 people.

She concluded that the slow rate was "not a realistic option unless we are prepared to accept increasing problems of homelessness, declining affordability and social division."

Kent Messenger, 26.03.2004

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