Politics: Tories berate Labour over housing policy

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair had toned down the Government's housing policy after a series of "disastrous" decisions by John Prescott, the Conservatives claimed last night.

The Opposition used one of its allotted days for parliamentary debate to complain that the Deputy Prime Minister seemed determined to cover the countryside with concrete.

Decisions to allow the building of 10,000 homes on green- belt land in Hertfordshire and 2,500 near Newcastle had undermined the planning system, according to Tim Yeo, a Tory environment spokesman. Despite earlier statements from Labour ministers that the Tories' plans to build 60 per cent of homes on reclaimed "brown-field" land were "a recipe for disaster", Mr Prescott now said he wanted more than half on such sites himself.

"Is this another example of where the fumbling of the minister responsible has forced the Prime Minister to step in?" Mr Yeo asked. "How can a government which claims to be governing in the interests of all the people be so consistently contemptuous of the views of those who live in rural areas?"

Mr Yeo added that allowing building in the countryside forced people to drive their cars longer distances to work while starving towns and cities of resources. "In just nine months Mr Prescott has undermined the planning system, which protected the green belt and guarded against unnecessary development on green-field sites, and has condemned huge tracts of countryside to the bulldozers," he said.

The planning minister, Richard Caborn, replied that the Conservatives' policies had left whole areas of open space in both urban and rural districts "devastated in the name of the free market." The previous government had forced counties such as Bedfordshire, Kent and Berkshire to include more housing in their structure plans. It had also cut social housing and allowed homelessness to rise to "deplorable" levels.

Mr Caborn also claimed that Sir Norman Fowler, the MP for Sutton Coldfield and Mr Prescott's shadow, who was next to Mr Yeo on the front bench, could not speak without claiming an interest because he is non-executive chairman of the National House Building Council and a non-executive director of Aggregate Industries PLC, a building materials and quarrying company.

He said the Tories had let the housing market collapse, and left us with the legacy of urban sprawl, out-of-town shopping, derelict inner cities and building on the green belt.