We don't want all these houses

This article first appeared in the East Anglian Daily Times on Wednesday March 9 2005.A week today, the consultation period ends for the East of England Plan which proposes 478,000 new homes for the region.

This article first appeared in the East Anglian Daily Times on Wednesday March 9 2005.

A week today, the consultation period ends for the East of England Plan which proposes 478,000 new homes for the region. Here, LORD HANNINGFIELD Hanningfield, leader of Essex County Council, says why it so important for people to express their views

No politician actively plans to create gridlock on our roads, overcrowding on our trains or empty housing estates devoid of any sense of community.

But that is the potential outcome of proposals to build almost half a million new homes in the East of England over the next 16 years if we don't all make our opposition to excessive new housing clear.

The East of England Plan, now disowned by the unelected assembly that originally supported it, proposes to build 478,000 new homes in the East of England over the coming 16 years. Essex alone is scheduled to take 123,400.

However, residents of this highly varied 'region'– it encompasses Southend, Cambridge and all points in between, now have the chance to do the same.

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The East of England plan is currently out for consultation and every resident in the 'region' has the opportunity to comment.

The challenge that development in the region presents is not simply one of limiting numbers. Rather, the key to the future of the region is to ensure that development enhances existing communities and makes the most of our strengths. Essex and Suffolk are hugely successful counties, many of whose problems are caused by this success rather than, as with several other areas of the UK, relative decline.

Even if Essex County Council is successful in our efforts to limit housing numbers in our county and the expansion of Stansted airport, we will still be expected to accommodate over 110,000 new homes and an airport slightly larger than JFK in New York.

Essex now has almost 25% more cars on our roads than ten years ago.

Without careful handling these type of pressures could irrevocably damage the very assets that makes this area so attractive.

In Colchester, Essex County Council is working closely with Colchester Borough Council as part of the Colchester Renaissance partnership, with plans for staff from both councils to be placed permanently at East Colchester, engaging with local residents and planning the redevelopment of that area, including a research and development park.

To attract the sophisticated companies that will fill such developments we are investing in the cultural life of the town and of Essex as a whole by supporting the development of the new Visual Arts Facility by an internationally renowned architect, Rafael Vinoly. This facility in turn will play a key part in pump-priming the St Botolph's Quarter regeneration project and generating additional 'footfall' that makes the redevelopment of St Botolph's attractive to retailers and investors. In a further twist of this virtuous circle, the windswept bus station that will be displaced by the regeneration of St Botolph's Quarter will be replaced by a brand new covered facility nearby in Vineyard Gate, paid for by the private sector.

The point of highlighting this development approach is that this transformation of a historic town has not been born of central government diktat, but by the Borough Council working closely with the County Council as part of Colchester Renaissance, to ensure that an increase in homes and other developments will enhance the lives of the people who currently live in the borough as well as supporting economic development that will provide more, and better, jobs for newcomers and existing residents alike.

It is developments like this that will help us deal with the challenges posed by the East of England Plan. At present its proposals for job creation seem wildly unrealistic – I am very sceptical of the plan's contention that, over the next 16 years, this region will miraculously increase the proportion of new UK jobs from 12% to 21%. My fear, if new housing is built without new employment, is that we will end up with empty commuter towns that are devoid of people during the day and unsafe at night.

Our recently launched Essex Design Initiative will be looking at how we make sure that new homes in the county are of the highest possible quality and environmentally and socially sustainable and create real places that are attractive places in which to live and work.

We want a real Essex, not London Lite.

I am confident that the people of Essex and Suffolk, along with the other counties in the East of England, are best placed to make decisions about the future shape of their counties. We are not nimbys, supporting some expansion at Stansted and over 100,00 new homes, but we do appreciate that there are limits to development and that such growth brings opportunities and risks. I and many other politicians will be doing all that we can to protect our region but we currently have a chance for everybody to play a part over the coming weeks.

You can register your views on proposed developments at www.eera.gov.uk or if you live in Essex at www.essexcc.gov.uk/planningthefuture.

Essex County Council's official response to the East of England Regional Plan will go to its cabinet on Tuesday March 15.

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