Headlines: January 10th, 2008

The Government has been accused of threatening to undermine urban regeneration in the West Midlands. The claim comes from the Campaign to Protect Rural England which fears that having rejected the Regional Assembly’s proposals for 365,000 new homes in the next 20 years Ministers are seeking to increase that figure to 420,000. The Assembly itself is also questioning the Government’s position.

The campaigners say there is no clear evidence that such large numbers of new homes are needed and had already put forward proposals for 285,000 which they felt would ensure the region concentrated on proven need and providing the right kinds of housing in the right place.

CPRE says in spite of the arguments the Government is determined to press ahead and will appoint its own consultants. That, it claims, rides roughshod over the Assembly’s consultation process. It is concerned that the only way the higher figure can be met is by allowing more building on greenfield land, and potentially Green Belt. That, it says, could undermine development in towns and cities, particularly of higher quality homes needed to encourage balanced urban regeneration.

Gerald Kells, Regional Policy Officer for CPRE, said, “We are extremely concerned about this housing hike. The aim of concentrating on urban regeneration and not creating unsustainable new housing estates in the countryside is already at breaking point in the region. Bumping up the numbers will mean more badly located greenfield houses.”

The request to the Assembly to rethink its plans came in a letter from Communities and Local Government Minister Baroness Andrews. Although the letter has still to be formally considered by the Assembly, Councillor Rex Roberts, who chairs its Regional Planning Partnership, said he was disappointed at the Government’s position. “While we recognise the need to improve housing affordability, it is important that we do not fall into the trap of a simple numbers game,” he said and added, “This could lead to the worst of all worlds if more greenfield sites are released and efforts to regenerate brownfield land and derelict sites is diverted such that the overall Urban and Rural Renaissance agenda is undermined.”