Target for new homes is 'unrealistic'

THE Government wants a huge rise in the number of homes built in Suffolk over the next 25 years, it has emerged.

Craig Robinson

THE Government wants a huge rise in the number of homes built in Suffolk over the next 25 years, it has emerged.

Currently building rates are an average of 3,085 new properties a year in the county - but revised proposals would see that rise to an average of 4,400.

That number of homes - equivalent to a town the size of Mildenhall or Beccles - would continue to be built every year until 2031.

The proposals, which could mean an extra 132,000 new properties built across 30 years, have been put forward by the Government's advisors - the National Housing and Planning Advice Unit (NHPAU).

But the huge rise in the number of properties has led to concerns about the impact any development will have on the countryside and local infrastructure.

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Nicola Currie, regional director of the Country, Land and Business Association, said: “It is important that a real need is established for this level of new housing. The CLA argues new housing should be evenly distributed as small areas of development into our existing rural towns and villages as this helps to maintain essential infrastructure such as schools, health centres, shops and post offices and keep the community alive and vibrant.

“It is also essential that sufficient affordable housing is included in these rural developments to ensure that young people can remain in our villages.”

The East of England Regional Assembly (EERA) has now started to review the NHPAU's advice and has asked local authorities - including Suffolk County Council - to report back on how many homes they could accommodate.

The current East of England Plan was published by the Government earlier this year and sets out regional planning policy from 2001 until 2021.

The new proposals - which could see a maximum of 39,200 new homes built every year in the East of England - will stretch to 2031 and beyond.

John Reynolds, EERA chairman, said: “The proposals from the Government's housing adviser for a massive increase in new housing are unwelcome, unrealistic and unsustainable.

“There is uncertainty in the housing market, a worsening economic climate and the region still lacks the investment needed to support the current growth in jobs and homes.

“The assembly will be making a realistic assessment of the region's future housing needs, consulting with local people, councils and others.”

Eddy Alcock, Suffolk County Council's portfolio holder for environment and waste management, said: “We are very concerned at the high levels of new housing the Government is proposing for the region and potentially for Suffolk.

“The county council will be working with colleagues in the districts and boroughs to test what this would mean for Suffolk.”

Mr Alcock said a number of workshops would be held this month for councillors from all authorities in Suffolk to discuss housing levels - so the county council could provide advice to EERA in January.

“The advice we send back will provide the opportunity for Suffolk to say very clearly what it thinks of the proposed housing growth and how this fits with our ideas for the future development of Suffolk,” he added.

Richard Spring, MP for West Suffolk, said it was vitally important local people were consulted about the changes.

“What we have in this country is an absurd top down approach to housing,” he said. “It's perfectly acceptable for the Government to look at housing needs and make some sort of assessment but ultimately it is up to the local authorities to decide what the level of housing should be in their area - it's not a matter for central government.”

EERA will launch a series of public consultations into the proposals before reporting back to the Government ahead of a final plan by 2011.

A spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government said no decisions had been made as to how many houses were needed in the region and where they would be.

“The final proposals have been published up to 2021 but as you can appreciate the world keeps moving and there becomes a need to start planning for the next 20 years,” he said. “As a result what the regions are doing is a review of the current plans - no decisions have been made.

“Only 13% of the country is urban and at the same time households are expected to grow by 30,000 a year up to 2021 - the current proposals only set out to achieve 25,000. However that doesn't mean we will be building all over the countryside.”

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