MPs rap Government over homes plan

By Graham DinesPolitical EditorBILLIONS of pounds will have to be spent on schools, hospitals and public transport before more than 50,000 new homes around Stansted and Cambridge are built, an all-party committee of MPs has warned.

By Graham Dines

Political Editor

BILLIONS of pounds will have to be spent on schools, hospitals and public transport before more than 50,000 new homes around Stansted and Cambridge are built, an all-party committee of MPs has warned.

Despite bitter opposition from residents of the villages and market towns of mid-Essex and south Cambridge, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott is determined to press ahead with creating “acorn” sustainable communities along the M11 corridor over the next 30 years.


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But the MPs have warned the Government it has to get the infrastructure right before the building of the homes could start.

They added a transport audit must be undertaken “to assess the ease of access to other services and employment not within walking distance before planning approval is given for any new housing development”.

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Following months of examining evidence from the Government and expert witnesses in the area, the select committee that monitors the work of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) will issue today what Ipswich MP and committee member Chris Mole called a “mildly critical report”.

It is estimated that just to provide Cambridgeshire's share of the new homes will cost £2.1 billion for education, health and transport - which means the total cost for the M11 corridor could be around £6bn.

But so far, just £610 million has been allocated by the Government for the four acorn sites - the M11 corridor, the Thames Gateway between Southend and Thurrock, Milton Keynes, and Ashford in Kent.

The MPs said no full assessment had been made by ministers of the cost of providing services for the new homes.

“We look forward to the preparation of a whole plan for the provision of all the infrastructure when the new house-building targets have been prepared,” they added.

“A well-defined programme is required for the funds, setting out the objectives and targets to be achieved and the agencies eligible to apply for them.

“The house-building programme is likely to take at least 30 years and local authorities require a long-term commitment from central Government that sufficient funds will be available for the infrastructure.”

Mr Mole, who is one of the 11 MPs on the select committee, said: “The report is mildly critical because the ODPM has yet to identify where the money is coming from to provide the schools, health service and transport needed to sustain these huge new communities. You can't plonk down thousands of new houses without this necessary support.”

He acknowledged it was better to build on brownfield sites rather than the countryside, but added: “We have to recognise that the pressure for new homes is in the South-East which does not have the same volume of disused land as the North of England.”

Commenting on the report, Sir Alan Haselhurst, the Conservative MP for Saffron Walden, said: “We still don't know where the houses will be built, but certain places will be better able to cope than others, such as Harlow which was planned and built as a new town.”

graham.dines@eadt.co.uk

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