Number of new homes set to rise again

Shaun LowthorpeFears were voiced last night that Norfolk's rural character would be destroyed and the county unable to cope if controversial plans for as many as 113,000 new homes over the next 20 years ever saw the light of day.Shaun Lowthorpe


Public affairs correspondent

Fears were voiced last night that Norfolk's rural character would be destroyed and the county unable to cope if plans for as many as 113,000 new homes over the next 20 years ever saw the light of day.

The East of England Regional Assembly (Eera) yesterday published four options for housing growth with figures for how many homes could be built district by district.

Current plans look ahead to 2021, but now policymakers are being asked to think about what might happen between 2011 and 2031.

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The projections look at housing growth - as well as summarising other issues such as transport links, air quality, biodiversity, climate change and flood risk - and across the region could see between 521,120 and 673,000 homes built, up from the 505,000 recommended just three years ago.

In Norfolk, that would mean an increase to between 83,000 and 113,000 homes - previously the county was in line for 76,700.

In Suffolk, the figures range from 68,400 to 101,000, while in Cambridgeshire they are between 87,000 and 91,180.

But Adrian Gunson, cabinet member for planning and transportation at Norfolk County Council, said last night that the targets were unrealistic, leaving communities unable to cope.

He said: "I fear for the rural character of Norfolk with growth at this rate. I have got grave doubts as to whether Norfolk can cope, bearing in mind the poor progress we are making getting infrastructure money and the government delays in granting approvals for the Postwick Hub and the Norwich northern distributor road."

The higher-end figures published yesterday are modelled on government projections for where people will be living based on the rising number of elderly and migration from both abroad and within the UK, while the lower forecasts would see most of the growth taking place elsewhere in the region and looking at link homes with jobs.

Mr Gunson said: "The building rate required for Norfolk is much greater than that delivered in the boom years. The lowest growth target is almost certainly undeliverable in the current circumstances and I think the larger one is quite unrealistic.

"A lot of this growth would take place on the edge of market towns and would just destroy their character. The effects on the population are going to be quite uncomfortable. There will be more congestion on the roads, more pupils in schools and the sewage systems will be overloaded."

James Frost, director of countryside campaigners CPRE Norfolk, said: "The housing figures already planned to 2021 are far too high and unsustainable for a rural county such as Norfolk."

He said the new figures "don't seem to be taking into account that we are in a recession", adding: "We are in a totally different economic situation now and it's completely unrealistic and unhelpful to continue giving these targets, which housebuilders are never going to deliver."

Chris Spencer, regional campaigns officer for the housing charity Shelter, welcomed the consultation as an opportunity to address the "desperate lack of affordable housing" in the region.

"The east of England is one of the areas of greatest housing need in the country, with an estimated 147,850 households stuck on council house waiting lists and average house prices beyond the reach of many people," she said. "Yet latest figures show that just 7,200 affordable homes were delivered in 2007-08, falling far short of the regional target."

Derrick Ashley, chairman of the Eera regional planning panel, said: "We need to plan for new homes so first-time buyers, young families and others in housing need can buy or rent a home at a price they can afford. Businesses also need the confidence to invest in our region.

"But we also want to protect the environment and the quality of life for existing and future residents of the east of England. New development must be appropriate and supported by government investment.

"We will look closely at all the responses to the consultation before publishing, in March 2010, a detailed plan for how many new homes are needed up to 2031," he added. "Although there may be changes to the planning system in the years ahead, the evidence gathered will be valuable for the continuing need to plan for new jobs and homes."

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