New homes 'will cost taxpayers'

GOVERNMENT plans for 123,000 new homes in Essex will cost the taxpayer nearly £13 billion and could see council tax soar by 43%, the county council has claimed.

GOVERNMENT plans for 123,000 new homes in Essex will cost the taxpayer nearly £13 billion and could see council tax soar by 43%, the county council has claimed.

The homes earmarked for Essex by 2021 in the East of England Plan will require a massive spending programme to enable infrastructure - such as roads, schools and hospitals - to cope with a 258,300 rise in population.

Essex County Council has worked out the potential costs and branded them as "unrealistic and unaffordable".

Lord Hanningfield, council leader, said last night: "At current rates of spending, we have estimated that it will take 100 years to catch up with our present shortfall in transport infrastructure.


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"The council is not anti-development, far from it, but we will fight tooth and nail to make sure that we don't end with a century of chaos in the county as a result of unfulfilled promises.

"We really must make sure that new housing is preceded by the infrastructure necessary to support it."

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The council claims £4.9 billion alone will have to be spent on improving road, railways and cycle-paths.

Just under £1.5 billion will be needed to provide the extra 23,200 primary school places and 20,500 secondary school places that will be necessary.

The county will need 552 extra hospital beds, 286 more GPs, 85 dentists and 407 other health professionals, such as nurses and midwives, which will cost £157.2 million.

The emergency services will need to be boosted with 143 new firefighters and 502 police officers, with a total cost, including new fire engines and police stations, of £21 million. Some £5 billion will be needed to buy land.

Once the homes are built and the new infrastructure is in place, the county council has predicted a rise in costs to the public sector of £2.5 billion.

Taxes raised by new households will fund most of this increase, but the council is forecasting a likely shortfall of £250 million per year, which if picked up by local taxpayer alone, would equate to a 43% rise in council tax.

The largest ongoing cost would be new schools, with a cost of nearly £1 billion each year.

In the submission to the examination of the East of England Local Plan, the council said: "These costs suggest that the development proposals outlined in the draft plan are unrealistic and unaffordable."

It calls for a conditional approach of "plan, monitor and manage", ensuring that new development is preceded by infrastructure.

It also singles out doubts about the adequacy of the public water supply to serve the new development, given that Essex is the driest county in the UK.

Last night, a spokesman from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister said: "Demand for housing is rising in the wider South East as a consequence of the population getting older and increasing numbers of single person households.

"In parallel, the house-building industry is not keeping pace with increasing demand. Over the last 30 years house-building rates have dropped by 50% but demand for new homes has increased by 30%.

"The Government cannot stand by and allow the situation to continue or worsen. We are determined to meet the rising needs of the country but to do so in a planned sustainable way.

"Essential to that is providing the right infrastructure and public services. There is commitment across government that housing growing is supported by the right transport networks, schools, hospitals, leisure facilities and green spaces."

Last year, the East of England Regional Assembly withdrew its support for the East of England plan due to a lack of Government funding for infrastructure in the region.

This March, it agreed that the development rate in the region is to be conditional upon and phased in relation to both current and future infrastructure requirements.

The Examination in Public, to be held before an independent panel, is due to start on November 1. Its aim is to provide an opportunity to discuss and test the soundness of the draft East of England plan. It is likely to finish early next year.

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