At a meeting of the South East England Regional Assembly in Woking this week, members voted by 137 to 69 to support an amendment reducing the level of building proposed in the South East Plan, which will be consulted on next year.
The amendment, put forward by Kent County Council leader Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, proposes to consult on three options for future house building: envisaging 25,500, 28,000 or 32,000 homes per year in the region from 2006 to 2026.
A previous proposal approved by the assembly's regional planning committee backed targets between the regional planning guidance (RPG) rate of 29,500 and 36,000 homes a year.
Bruce-Lockhart's amendment expressed "serious concerns" about the implications of growth levels beyond the existing RPG, particularly their environmental impact and doubts over infrastructure provision.
But other assembly members, including Labour and Liberal Democrat delegates and business and social housing interests, bitterly objected to Bruce-Lockhart's amendment.
CBI representative Douglas Horner said that adopting the lower target would "exacerbate shortages, push up prices and reduce business competitiveness in the region". He added that the plan's aspiration for three per cent economic growth would be jeopardised by the reduction.
Assembly deputy chairman Don Turner said he is "very disappointed" with the result. "It is unrealistic to go out with those sort of proposals," he added. "The figures cannot support the three per cent growth rate and do nothing to solve housing problems. I hope that sense will prevail and we will get responses in favour of higher figures."
Mike Gwilliam, the assembly's head of planning and transport, pointed out that no housing numbers have been decided. "There has been a lot of misrepresentation about the plan," he insisted. "We are debating options and no final decision has been made."
Gwilliam said he is pleased that members support proposals to boost affordable housing in the region. The draft calls for 40 per cent of new homes to be affordable, with 25 per cent allocated for the social rented sector.