Warning over new 478,000 new homes

THE surge in the number of houses that will need to be built in East Anglia could change the character of the region.The warning came as it was decided that almost 59,000 homes would have to be built across Suffolk and more than 123,000 in Essex between 2001 and 2021.

THE surge in the number of houses that will need to be built in East Anglia could change the character of the region.

The warning came as it was decided that almost 59,000 homes would have to be built across Suffolk and more than 123,000 in Essex between 2001 and 2021.

Richard Ward, director of the Suffolk Preservation Society, said: “We do question whether this is a reasonable target for Suffolk.

“The danger is if there are so many houses the villages and towns cannot grow incrementally; extending and encouraging traditional Suffolk villages, which has happened over centuries here.

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“Instead the danger is that there are large sprawling housing estates, which may become equally a tradition in Suffolk as well as the traditional Suffolk villages with quaint streets and character.

“What we have got to ensure is that whatever housing is built in the county it is the highest quality and adds to the character and does not diminish it.”

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He said the Government had imposed the figure of almost 59,000 on the county without any real assessment of whether it could physically or socially accommodate the housing.

“Does it mean that more greenfield sites will be used and will the services be able to cope with them? There's the ancillary development, such as roads, schools, hospitals and surgeries needed; they have got to be absorbed too.”

Bob Feltwell, chief executive of the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, said the figures equated to about 66 homes built per week.

“Because Suffolk needs to have economic growth and because we need people to work in the area to generate wealth in the economy, we would expect house building to carry on, with planners acting responsibly and using up brownfield sites as much as they can,” he said.

Mr Feltwell explained where he thought the people would come from to fill the homes and said he was positive there would be jobs for them.

He added: “We all hope the economy in Suffolk will grow and Suffolk companies will generate the employment as necessary.

“We expect the infrastructure to be there to handle it, roads and rail links, as, without that, housing is not much use.”

Andrew Mackintosh, spokesman for Anglian Water, said: "Suffolk and north Essex are one of the driest parts of the country, with half the average rainfall.

"As far as Anglian Water is concerned we will be able to meet demand but we know it is not going to be easy. In order for this to work, we have to be involved in the planning consultation right from the very start, as it involves the laying of mains and pipes.

"All these properties will be metered, which is an advantage, but it is a huge number of properties. It will be a considerable increase in demand.”

A spokesman for Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority said it is commissioning extra studies to address the impact of the growth.

He said: “It is going to bring more pressure on hospitals. More homes mean more people needing more health services.

“We have already been planning for this. In Suffolk, it is considered to be organic growth so it is just a question of increasing the capacity we have got.

“Where it is normal growth we would expect the local Primary Care Trust to plan for the resources and services before the people arrive. For the new communities it will need a more dramatic change.”

Julian Swainson, Suffolk county councillor responsible for the environment, planning and transport, said: “We will be talking to the government to make sure that the adequate funding and infrastructure is in place to service the needs of any major new housing development in Suffolk in the future. Any new development would also have be planned in consultation with local people.”

He said the number of children in the population as well as the fact that people are living longer would also ensure there is demand for the homes.

He added: “There are one or two parts of Suffolk where there is still a need for further job creation and job employment.

“Parts of Ipswich, Haverhill and Lowestoft could do with more strategic investment. However, in other parts of Suffolk it is the opposite.

“There are, in some parts of East Anglia, labour shortages and it is quite hard to recruit for some trades and occupations so there is a pressing need for more people.”

Essex County Council leader Lord Hanningfield condemned the plans: "Today's figures are the result of a flawed process with obviously a flawed result and one cannot help but view this as the result of a 'think of a number' Government-driven policy with little consideration for environmental, social or economic factors."

Essex County Council believes decisions on housing numbers are premature without proper consideration of a slew of reports including the regional economic strategy, affordable housing study, spending review proposals for transport and social infrastructure investment, and the strategic environmental assessment.

Lord Hanningfield said: "This level of house-building is confirmed with the ink barely dry on much of the supporting documentation and astonishingly before the publication of the regional economic strategy. I have yet to see any evidence that the dramatic rise in the proportion of the country's new jobs being created in the East of England is grounded in any coherent research."

Peter Martin, the county's planning, enterprise and regeneration portfolio holder, said: "Without having more convincing figures on job creation in the region it is impossible to see the additional houses being proposed as anything other than the creation of empty commuter towns that are neither socially or environmentally sustainable."

However, Essex County Council Labour group welcomed the Essex housing figure of 123,400 dwellings because it is just 10% higher than the number authorities in the counties were requesting.

Essex Chamber of Commerce president Robert Leng said: "There are a lot of areas that need housing, in particular low cost housing. There were less houses built last year than for any period since the First World War. As part of that, the number of low cost houses has diminished also."

Lawrence Wragg, vice chairman of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: "We welcome the fact the panel has had the self confidence to say no to 18,000 extra houses.

"We understand the pressure members of the panel felt under that they had to recommend acceptance of 478,000 houses."

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