Blow to bid for 500,000 homes

PLANS for nearly half a million new homes for the east of England have been plunged into turmoil after a regional assembly suspended its support for the major housing bid.

By Juliette Maxam

PLANS for nearly half a million new homes for the east of England have been plunged into turmoil after a regional assembly suspended its support for the major housing bid.

The East of England Regional Assembly (EERA) last month approved the East of England Plan for 478,000 new homes in the east, including 123,400 in Essex and 58,600 in Suffolk by 2021.

But approval for the new homes was on condition that the Government provided enough money for the infrastructure - roads, transport, health facilities and schools - necessary to support so many new homes.


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Many EERA members were unhappy with Government grants for the region announced last week and the assembly's Conservative group proposed a motion to suspend the region's support for the East of England Plan.

Yesterday, members passed the motion and the plan has been suspended - two days after the public consultation process started.

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A statement released by EERA said: “The East of England Regional Assembly deplores the Government's grossly inadequate funding of the transport infrastructure costs associated with the additional 478,000 houses planned for this region between 2001-2021.

“Bearing in mind that the assembly's acceptance of this massive growth was conditional upon adequate government provision of the necessary infrastructure; and mindful of Lord Rooker's repeated written assurances that growth will not be imposed without the associated infrastructure, this assembly wishes to make clear that it now regards its endorsement of the draft East of England Plan as suspended pending a re-examination of the Government's willingness to support its own aspirations adequately in financial terms.”

EERA will send this statement to appropriate Government ministers. The statement will also be distributed with all further copies of the draft East of England Plan, displayed on the Assembly's website and will be submitted to the independent panel examining the plan at the end of the public consultation period.

Last night EERA member Kathy Pollard, a Suffolk county councillor, said: “We have been waiting for further news from Lord Rooker about what money will be needed and we are extremely concerned about it.

“It's important that we have money to back up any housing that does go ahead. There have been major concerns so obviously there will be delays why they seek assurances. It's a very real worry.”

The news was welcomed by Essex County Council's leader Lord Hanningfield, who said “reason has prevailed”.

He said: “All the way through, we have been promised that no new homes would be built without essential infrastructure being put in place first. The Government has failed at the first hurdle by providing a pitiful transport settlement for what they claim is a key development area.

“Up until now, we have been saying that Essex can absorb no more than 110,000 new homes as opposed to the 123,000 new homes proposed by the ODPM (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) and supported, until now, by the Regional Assembly.

“Given the fact that Essex got no strategic funding in last week's transport settlement, I now genuinely question whether we can support even that 110,000 figure.

Alan Dean, leader of Uttlesford District Council in one of the Government's key growth areas, said: “I think this shows that the regional assembly isn't a puppet of central Government. When Government isn't delivering on its promises, the regional assembly will fight back and dig its heels in.”

A spokesman for the ODPM said: “We are surprised that they have decided to take this stance two days after the start of consultation, especially when the east of England plan is their own decision prepared by their own planners and members.”

He said it displayed “shortsightedness” in view of the region's needs.

“The decision is based on the Department of Transport funding allocation that relates to just a three year period. The East of England plan sets out a vision of strategic development for 20 years.”

Consultation for the plan is continuing. Details of events arranged by local authorities around the region are available on www.eera.gov.uk

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