Greens see red over Prescott's housing plans

More areas of countryside could be lost to new housing estates under the latest shake-up of the planning system, the government admitted today.

Announcing the proposals, the deputy prime minister, John Prescott, said that planning needed an overhaul so that it delivered more housing.

To the alarm of environmental campaigners he unveiled measures to increase the supply of land for housing and make the system more responsive to changes in the housing market.


A consultation paper on the changes conceded that the reforms risked "increased development on greenfield sites". But it insisted: "Doing nothing is not an option, because it is clear that many [local] plans have not taken sufficient account of housing market changes."

It said the current system was creating increased homelessness and overcrowding because not enough land was being released for house building. Setting out the moral case for the changes it said: "In such circumstance the planning system serves to increase the wealth gap between those already in the market (homeowners) and those unable to buy."

Mr Prescott said: "For decades, this country has built too few homes, with the result that too many people on moderate incomes can't afford a home."

He added: "Today's proposals will mean the planning system can respond faster to the housing market and local needs, so that more homes can be built where they're needed."

In attempt to placate environmentalists, Mr Prescott also announced measures to strengthen the protection of green-belt land around cities.

But the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) dismissed this as "fig leaf" and said the changes to the planning system amounted to "environmental vandalism".

The proposed changes to the planning system are:

  • For the first time regional and local planning bodies will have to take into account local housing markets when allocating land for new homes.
  • Councils will have to plan for 15 years of housing supply, instead of the current 10.
  • Councils must also identify land that is ready to be developed over the first five years of their plans. Preference will be given to brownfield sites, but other land will be used where these are too difficult to develop.
  • In areas of high demand land developers will be allowed to bring forward sites for development earlier than scheduled.

The consultation paper also cites a controversial recommendation by the economist Kate Barker that would force councils to release land for housing in areas where house prices rise above agreed thresholds. But it makes clear that the government would prefer not to go this far.

Shaun Spiers, the chief executive of the CPRE, said: 'These proposals amount to environmental vandalism. They risk unleashing a tidal wave of urban sprawl on our countryside and at the same time condemning many of our most deprived communities to continuing urban decay

Friends of the Earth agreed. Its planning expert, Hugh Ellis, said: "These plans mark the end of any attempt by government to deliver socially and environmentally responsible housing. It is just not possible to have market-driven housing provision and to sustain the environment in the south east.

"The paper doesn't address the essential need for sustainable growth across the whole of the UK. The real priority is to provide affordable social housing across the country and to deal with the large-scale abandonment of homes in the north. The government seems intent on dismantling the planning system in the mistaken belief that encouraging growth in the south-east is the only way to grow the UK's economy."

But Robert Ashmead, the chief executive of the Home Builders Federation, welcomed the proposals. He said: "As the Barker Review into housing supply recommends, the planning process should make better use of market information and ensure greater clarity and speed. This announcement marks a step in the right direction and we look forward to consulting with the government on how the plans will work in practice.

"The efficient release of land for development is necessary to allow the housing market to respond to people's needs and aspirations, and to give everyone the opportunity to own a house that they can afford."

guardian, 18th July, 2005

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