Blueprint for future of Eastern England

A RADICAL blueprint for the East of England has been approved by the Government, which will see the region grow by 508,000 homes and create 452,000 new jobs in the next 13 years.

Graham Dines

A RADICAL blueprint for the East of England has been approved by the Government, which will see the region grow by 508,000 homes and create 452,000 new jobs in the next 13 years.

Ipswich, St Edmundsbury, Colchester and Chelmsford will be at the heart of the expansion plans and ministers have pledged extra cash to ensure that more hospitals, schools, leisure centres, and roads across the six counties are built and public transport approved.

The Department for Communities, which yesterday approved the East of England Plan, said it would “deliver a vision for continuing growth and spreading prosperity to all communities in a planned and sustainable way over the next two decades.”

The plan starts technically in 2001 and covers the period until 2021, by which time all the housing, infrastructure and employment should be in place.

Publication of the plan follows public consultation and months of independent examination by Government appointed inspectors. Its aim is to co-ordinate housing and jobs growth that will help the region tackle homelessness and housing affordability.

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From 2010, the regional spatial plan and the regional economic plan (RES) will be joined up to create a new East of England implementation plan for new jobs, homes, transport and investment for the first time. The Department pledged that the plan “will continue to require transparent and open consultation with councils, local communities, businesses and environmental groups.”

Latest statistical projections showed that “new households are expected to grow by 30,500 a year up to 2021 in the region which means housing provision needs to accelerate to keep up with demand. The document puts in place a timetable to deliver 508,000 more homes (25,400 a year) and new jobs to hit 452,000 by 2021.”

“The Government has made millions of pounds of funding available to support infrastructure in the region including schools, hospitals, leisure centres and transport links through the growth fund, the community infrastructure fund and housing and planning delivery grants,” the department said.

“In addition the community infrastructure levy currently being considered by Parliament will potentially create another important funding source for councils delivering new housing.”

Barbara Follett, the minister appointed to look after the interests of the region in Whitehall, said: “This is very good news for everyone living in the East of England.

“Our region is dynamic. Not all growth in England should in London or Birmingham, and we should be up there with the other regions when it comes to investment.

“The Government has approved the plan and announced a major injection of money into the East of England. We now expect the regional development agency to drive it forward and ensure there is joined-up thinking across the region.”

No specific locations have been identified, and Mrs Follett would not be drawn on what it meant for improvements to the A12 and A120 in Essex or the A11 in west Suffolk.

As soon as the details of the Government announcement emerged, it met with a mixed response.

Richard Powell, Chair of Sustainability East, said: “Growth is a hugely complex issue, and its impacts are far reaching in terms of housing, transport, schools and hospitals, as well as the natural environment around us, and the resources which support us.

“We welcome the fact that through this process, Government and regional partners have recognised that all of these issues have to be brought together and thought through strategically, and clearly, and drawing on the expertise of regional partners.

“Sustainability East will continue to challenge those delivering this plan to make sure we are achieving that integration, without this growth cannot be seen as sustainable. Business as usual isn't an option.”

Welcoming the injection of money into the Chelmsford-Braintree partnership, Braintree council leader Graham Butland said: “We are developing our vision for the district and need to ensure that vital infrastructure is available to underpin the growth in population and housing. We keep pushing for more investment and this award demonstrates the quality of our joint bid with Chelmsford Borough.”

Rachel Newton, regional campaigns manager for homeless charity Shelter, said the “desperate need for affordable housing” had been recognised with a target of 35% of new build to be affordable.

But she added: “With 4,390 households in temporary accommodation in the region, thousands on council house waiting lists and increasing numbers of families facing the threat of repossession, the plan should have made a firm commitment to building at least 8,000 social rented homes per year.”

Chris White, Liberal Democrat Leader in the East of England Regional Assembly, criticised what he called a lack of cash to implement necessary infrastructure changes. “Not only do we need increased investment in roads and rail to cope with these increases in population but also schools and community facilities.

“The launch and distribution of the document has also been a mess. Press have been informed and given details and data, but nobody seems to have told the councils who will have to implement these orders from government.”

Essex County Council said the announcement did nothing to alleviate concerns around an unsustainable level of new housing or lack of infrastructure.

John Jowers, the cabinet member for localism, said: “The Government has not been listening to the county's concerns. As we have said all along, we want to be positive about growth in our region but we cannot underestimate the importance of sustainable and comprehensive infrastructure.

“Essex is expected to deliver a quarter of the region's new housing and jobs but our own A12 inquiry demonstrates just how vital it is to have workable transport routes and how we will need to see major improvements in order to support further growth.

“We are working positively with the districts, boroughs and other local partners to respond to the growth agenda, but without investment and solid infrastructure, the sustainability of this level of growth has to be seriously challenged. We have been making this point to Government for years but it appears they have not been listening. It is also clear that the overall level of funding is woefully inadequate.”

Suffolk county councillor Guy McGregor, who chairs the East of England regional assembly's transport said it was too early to say if the extra cash would be sufficient.

“If Suffolk is going to meet central governments housing targets, local authorities will have to ensure that the housing needs are balanced with the necessary sustainability infrastructure such as roads, railway improvements, additional school places, modern health facilities.”

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