County facing concrete jungle threat

AN INITIATIVE has been launched to stop Essex turning into a concrete jungle of commuter housing when a proposed flood of new properties are built.Half a million new houses may have to be built in the East of England over the next 17 years, with Essex County Council needing to find space for at least 110,000, according to framework proposals now under discussion.

AN INITIATIVE has been launched to stop Essex turning into a concrete jungle of commuter housing when a proposed flood of new properties are built.

Half a million new houses may have to be built in the East of England over the next 17 years, with Essex County Council needing to find space for at least 110,000, according to framework proposals now under discussion.

Faced with the prospect of such dramatic urbanisation, the council has created the Essex Design Initiative to promote developments that people want to live in, not just commute from - despite a need for much higher-density housing.

Instead of urban sprawl, such developments would include facilities such as shops, hospitals, schools and places of work, as well as good quality housing and infrastructure.

Witnessed by regional development minister, Lord Rooker, as well as environmentalist Jonathon Porritt, chairman of the Sustainable Development Commission, the initiative was launched at the Greater London Authority yesterday.

Lord Hanningfield, Essex County Council leader, said: "We have a two-pronged approach to new housing in Essex. We need to limit excessive numbers of new homes in Essex but we also need to ensure that new homes built in the county are built to the highest design standards and provide for communities that are both environmentally and socially sustainable.

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"New housing will inevitably be built to much higher densities than in the past, with more homes per acre. If these homes are to be genuinely popular and successful we need to ensure that they come with all of the facilities that genuine communities need - from schools, shops and sporting facilities to opportunities for work.

"We want to build new communities, not empty commuter towns."

And the move has been welcomed by countryside campaigners.

Peter Chillingworth, chairman of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Essex, said: "Making towns more attractive must be a good thing as it minimises demands for housing on the countryside and green belt land.

"We are objecting to high numbers of houses imposed on us by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. But any regeneration should be done as sustainably and attractively as possible."

The initiative will now work together with the Government's architectural advisors, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment and the East of England Development Agency to produce a blueprint for development.

This will take the form of a supplement to the Essex design guide, outlining best practice for urban residential construction, to be presented in June.

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