Members of the East of England Regional Assembly planning panel agreed that forthcoming regional spatial strategy (RSS) should provide 478,000 homes from 2001 to 2021, an annual average of 23,900. But they rejected the government's proposal for an extra 18,000 homes to be provided on top of that in the M11 growth corridor.
Regeneration minister Lord Rooker had called for the extra homes earlier in the year to support communities plan proposals. But the assembly insisted that it has found no case for them and warned against unsustainable levels of development. However, it committed itself to an early "focused" review of housing provision in three years' time.
Alan Moore, head of regional planning and transport at the assembly, admitted that the decision could put the region on a collision course with the government. But he pointed out that the figure is only a small proportion of overall housing supply.
"Our members are not convinced of the need for the extra homes," said Moore. "But the early review of the RSS will give us a chance to judge whether or not it is the right decision."
An ODPM spokesman said the department will respond later on in the process of approving the RSS. The ODPM's view is that the extra homes are needed to ensure the creation of sustainable communities, he added.
At a panel meeting, members agreed that the region will need 478,000 new homes by 2021 "to meet the affordable housing needs of key workers and the economic growth of the region".
Moore said: "We have had a strategic environmental assessment, which shows that our strategy is the most sustainable we can get. We have a lot of policies, such as encouraging energy and water efficiency, an increase in densities and urban concentration to encourage sustainable transport patterns, designed to avoid the negative environmental impact of growth."
The focus of the region's growth will be in existing urban areas and strategic urban extensions, with major roles pencilled in for Harlow and Stevenage.
John Reynolds, chairman of the assembly's regional planning panel, said: "We look forward to the government supporting the strategy through the early provision of essential infrastructure."
But opponents of development have already vented their anger. Friends of the Earth regional campaigner Mary Edwards said: "Building half a million homes and associated infrastructure in the East of England would have a devastating effect on the environment."
Hertfordshire County Council said it is "dismayed" at the assembly's decision. Derrick Ashby, the authority's executive member for the environment, added: "The scale of development is entirely unwise." He argued that the plans would put "an unsustainable pressure" on local roads, railways and water supplies.
But House Builders Federation spokesman Pierre Williams said: "It is interesting to see how the media slant on this presents the decision as rolling through more housing in the region when in fact it is a rejection of the extra housing needed. This demonstrates the extent of the anti-house building lobby."
- See Editorial, page 13.
COUNTY BREAKDOWN OF AGREED HOUSING DISTRIBUTION 2001-21
COUNTY Annual provision Total provision
Bedfordshire and Luton 535 10,700
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough 4,465 89,300
Essex, Southend and Thurrock 6,170 123,400
Hertfordshire 3,980 79,600
Norfolk 3,630 72,600
Suffolk 2,930 58,600
Total 23,900 478,000
Note: The provision for Bedfordshire and Luton excludes anticipated
total provision from Milton Keynes and South Midlands sub-regional
study, which is passing through a separate statutory process.
Source: East of England Regional Assembly.