Prescott home plan will 'ruin environment'

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The Independent Online

John Prescott's plans for green "sustainable communities" in Britain will cause irreversible environmental damage, two authoritative reports have concluded.

John Prescott's plans for green "sustainable communities" in Britain will cause irreversible environmental damage, two authoritative reports have concluded.

A powerful parliamentary committee and a top Blairite think-tank have both found that the Deputy Prime Minister's £22bn housing plans will endanger the Government's bid to tackle global warming, increase the transport crisis and lead to water shortages.

The analysis could not come at a more embarrassing time for Mr Prescott, who tomorrow opens a three-day "sustainable communities summit" in Manchester.

Late last week he reacted furiously to the parliamentary report by the House of Commons Environment Audit Committee, condemning it before publication and phoning the committee's Labour MPs. Peter Ainsworth, its chairman, is to report his "extraordinary" conduct to the parliamentary authorities.

Mr Prescott, who is credited with brokering the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, told The Independent on Sunday after the 2002 Johannesburg Earth Summit that he was "redirecting his energy" into the "just as important" task of establishing environmentally friendly housing and communities at home.

He has since announced a major expansion of housebuilding, last week unveiling the first part of a five-year plan to build 1.1 million new homes in South-east England in little more than a decade, as well as making property more affordable for first-time buyers.

The select committee concludes that the new housing threatens to "lead to significant and effectively irreversible" environmental damage and adds: "There is a serious risk that ... the principle beneficiaries of housing growth will be property development companies, whilst the principal loser will be the environment."

Both reports - the second from a commission set up by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), which has close ties to Downing Street - draw attention to the danger of a water crisis in South-east England.

Under Mr Prescott's plans, the IPPR commission reportsays, Oxfordshire, Hampshire and large parts of Kent will run dry within 20 years. Strict water rationing would have to be imposed.

The Environment Agency, which controls water resources in England, has already warned that in parts of the region there is already less water per person than in Ethiopia or Sudan.

IPPR's commission for sustainable development, which includes Baroness Young, the head of the Environment Agency, and Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, the leader of Kent County Council, says ministers have failed to take account of the devastating potential impact of global warming.

Although Mr Prescott has stressed the importance of providing public transport links to the new "communities", the report adds, his plans give "little thought to whether additional transport services and infrastructure would be able to keep pace with the new housing".