Fears as Suffolk braced for 60,000 homes

PRECIOUS countryside could be lost and the likes of hospitals put under major pressure after it emerged Suffolk must find space for nearly 60,000 new homes in the next 17 years.

PRECIOUS countryside could be lost and the likes of hospitals put under major pressure after it emerged Suffolk must find space for nearly 60,000 new homes in the next 17 years.

The fears were voiced after the East of England Regional Assembly agreed draft plans for 58,600 homes to be built in the county by 2021.

The figure is the equivalent of a town the size of Ipswich, and has sparked immediate concerns about the potential impact on the countryside, infrastructure and public services.

A Suffolk County Council official last night insisted they were in a better position than many other counties to cope with the number of homes demanded.

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The proposals aim to combat a property shortage in south-east England and provide affordable homes. They also include 131,000 homes earmarked for Essex, and nearly half a million in the eastern region in total.

But Richard Spring, MP for West Suffolk, said last night he was "very concerned".

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He said: "I think the southern half of England is being picked on with houses in a very unsympathetic way. The quality of life of people in Suffolk will be adversely affected if we have a massive increase in houses.

"I think we are seeing far too much concrete over the years in Suffolk. The greenfield sites are precious places and we have to try to preserve them.

"The support structures in Suffolk are very creaky with health budgets under pressure and the road systems are not ideal so we do not want on top of this massive increases in housing."

He said that the county should be left to expand as people move into the area rather than have the allocation given to it in an "arbitrary way".

Cllr Julian Swainson, who has responsibility for the environment and transport at Suffolk County Council, said last night: "I do not think we have as much difficulty as some other counties do with the expected allocations. We will be working in partnership with the district councils. There is the requirement for the number to go up a bit."

He added: "In areas like Ipswich there is a lot of brownfield land suitable for redevelopment. There is the capacity. The key issue is that the infrastructure is in place before the houses are built.

"Suffolk is a big county with a lot of areas which could take growth but other areas that are the important landscapes."

Wil Gibson, chief executive of rural pressure group Suffolk ACRE, who attended the assembly's meeting, said he had "real problems" with the approach.

"We think there is not enough being done to support the rural communities. We see a number of people with money buying up the houses and people who were born there are not living in their villages and are not being able to find accommodation.

"We would like them to look at the indigenous growth needs and then make an allocation accordingly.

"I am not convinced that if these houses were built that they would meet the need for social housing and affordable housing on the open market."

He added that there needed to be a system to encourage newcomers and make sure that they are integrated into the communities, which would be aided by small developments dispersed across the county.

Audrey Boyle, spokeswoman for the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, said it would work to ensure the properties were not approved for inappropriate or sensitive wildlife areas.

"One of our concerns is about the consumption of water. It has to come from surrounding land and that could have an impact on wetland habitats.

"We will also be looking at energy use as this will have an impact on global warming and on Suffolk wildlife."

She said that the trust would be supporting the use of grey water systems and alternative energy but on the positive side the houses would bring more gardens and shrubland for wildlife.

The assembly approved the draft Regional Planning Guidance 14 document by a majority vote at a special meeting in Hertford at the end of last week. This was despite calls from some members for work on the proposals to be halted in the light of the Government's 11th hour demands for additional housing in the London-Stansted-Cambridge growth area.

The document sets out the policies to guide local councils in their development and transport plans and will now return to the Regional Planning Panel on February 27 to be finalised.

The assembly, which is made up of elected councils from every local authority in the region as well as representatives from business, community and voluntary groups, said it hoped the Government would sign off infrastructure improvements to support the housing figures in the plan.

John Reynolds, chair of the assembly, said: "The assembly is still shocked that the Government has called for additional housing quotas in the region on top of those we recommend having carried numerous studies and public consultations.

"But I am pleased assembly members have agreed to approve the draft RPG 14 document as it means we can submit our proposals to the office of the Deputy Prime Minister at the agreed time. Work can then begin on exploring options to accommodate the Government's increased demands."

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