Growth doubts hit regional scrutiny

Debate on the East of England Plan started this week with sharply divided views expressed on the region's growth options.

A public examination of the draft, meeting in Ely under the chairmanship of Alan Richardson, will sit for the next four months to scrutinise the plan. The blueprint calls for 478,000 homes between 2001 and 2021 plus 421,500 jobs, contingent on government assurances on infrastructure.

The East of England Regional Assembly, which prepared the draft, said it would create jobs-led growth for the region. Chief executive Brian Stewart argued that the proposed housing growth is "necessary to support the region's continued prosperity and to deal with historic under-delivery of new housing, particularly affordable homes".

The ODPM's growth areas division contended that according to latest projections the plan will need to cater for more than 500,000 homes during the period. Henry Cleary, head of the division, said that the key issues are whether housing targets in the plan are sufficient to improve affordability and whether it does enough to exploit the potential of the region's growth areas.

Other participants at the examination agreed that the growth targets should be higher. Paul Foster of Barton Willmore Planning Partnership, representing the East of England Consortium, insisted that the proposed 15 per cent rise in house building will fail to deliver a "step change" in housing. He suggested that an increase of 25 to 30 per cent would be more adequate.

Environmental groups slated the plan, calling it undeliverable and claiming that it would damage environmental assets. The Campaign to Protect Rural England said that the effects of the draft could be "devastating" and could cause "irreversible harm to beautiful and historic landscapes and loss of habitats".

Essex County Council planning chief Geoff Gardner said that he has "severe doubts" about the realism of the jobs and homes targets. Hertfordshire County Council head of forward planning Jon Tiley complained that the draft would fail to deliver "a robust, sustainable plan".

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