Prescott makes promise of 200,000 homes, but maintains green belt will be safeguarded

A A A

Ambitious plans to solve the doubled-edged housing crisis of unaffordable homes in the South and unwanted homes in the North were unveiled yesterday by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister.

A sharp increase in the number of houses to be built in the overcrowded South-east is an important element in the detailed 20-year strategy, which Mr Prescott said would pump £22bn into housing regeneration across the country. But he claimed this would not mean concreting over swaths of the green belt, giving a guarantee that greenbelt land would be maintained, or even increased, in every English region.

The long-awaited strategy paper, Sustainable Communities: Building for the Future, was generally welcomed by planners and even by some green groups, who recognised Mr Prescott was trying hard to reconcile the conflicting demands of providing enough new housing while protecting the countryside.

Among his tougher proposals was a plan to give local authorities the power to force owners of empty homes to rent them out and pay for any refurbishment costs. Mr Prescott said that in London and the South-east alone some 70,000 homes in private ownership had been empty for six months.

The core of the Government plan is to tackle the collapse of the housing market in the North – where some houses in run-down areas of older industrial towns can in effect be worthless – while stepping up building in the South, where supply has fallen far behind housing demand and helped to push up prices to beyond the reach of most people on moderate or low incomes.

House building in the South-east has been a political hot potato, with fierce opposition from environmentalists, but yesterday Mr Prescott announced a substantial step-up in building rates. About 200,000 extra new homes, in addition to those already expected in regional planning guidance, will be built in the South-east between now and 2016, he said.

They will be not be scattered across the region but concentrated in four growth areas, Milton Keynes, Ashford in Kent, the so-called M11 corridor stretching from London to Stansted airport and on to Cambridge, and the Thames Gateway on the eastern side of London. All the areas will receive substantial government investment to attract business, with £446m for the Thames Gateway, and £164m each for the other three. But Mr Prescott told MPs: "I want to make it absolutely clear that this is not homes everywhere and anywhere. This is homes in sustainable communities to meet the shortfall in supply. Not suburban sprawl. Not soulless estates. Not dormitory towns." There would be an increased drive to reclaim brownfield sites, Mr Prescott said, adding that Labour had introduced the green belt 50 years ago. "Today I am giving a guarantee to maintain or increase greenbelt land in every region of England," he said.

At the other end of the scale, run-down property blackspots, mainly in the North, would receive £500m cash injections, Mr Prescott said, with nine regional housing regeneration partnerships to be set up. In the worst cases, houses might simply have to be demolished.

He also promised a series of measures to protect and enhance the country's social housing stock. Over the next three years there would be £50m for neighbourhood wardens to help people feel safer, £41m to drive up the quality of skills and urban design, £70m for community programmes to improve neighbourhoods, and £80m to help local authorities transform the quality of their parks and public spaces.

Kate Parminter, chief executive of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, said: "Some new affordable housing will have to be built on green fields but it must be minimised, for the sake of our towns, our cities and the overall environment."

* House prices continued to rise last month, increasing by 1.5 per cent, on average, despite fears of an end to the consumer boom. The Halifax, Britain's biggest mortgage lender, said sustained low interest rates and low unemployment were driving demand for housing. The average price of a property stands at £123,451.

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions