Prescott says recycle land for most homes

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FORMER ministers last night claimed that the floodgates had been opened to legal challenges against housing development in beauty spots across Britain after the announcement of new planning guidelines requiring councils to ensure that most new housing goes on "recycled" land.

"Appeals will be made by every single council whose county or district plan has already been confirmed," said John Gummer, the former Tory environment secretary.

John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Environment, Regions and transport, immediately faced pleas from MPs on all sides of the Commons yesterday to look again at controversial housing schemes in their areas after announcing new guidelines requiring 60 per cent of housing to be built on recycled land.

He was asked to intervene in the development of1,500 houses in the Aire Valley, Yorkshire, by Labour MP Ann Cryer and appeals could be made elsewhere such as Stevenage, where he has agreed to 10,000 houses in the green belt. It could strengthen the legal challenge by West Sussex, which is appealing in the courts against his order rejecting a cut in the county's housing allocation.

Mr Prescott said last night that the previous target of 4.4 million new homes by 2016 could be exceeded and that he was considering a "greenfield" tax. But The Independent has learnt that it will not be included in the Chancellor's Budget on 17 March. Mr Prescott is facing resistance from Gordon Brown over demands that the money raised from housing in greenfield sites should be kept by his department for a major redevelopment of recycled land.

Mr Prescott's long-awaited statement outlined measures that should make developers search harder for opportunities to build homes on derelict or under-used land within the cities. But tackling crime, poor school standards and pollution in the cities are all seen as key ingredients.

Tony Burton, of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, which has led the fight to slow urban sprawl, said: "This could be a watershed. But it will take years of effort from the Government and local councils to turn the ideas in this document into action on the ground."

The Government's new national target is for 60 per cent of new homes to be built on previously developed land. The most recent figures show 52 per cent had been achieved in the Nineties. This target will not be uniform throughout England. In each region, groups of local councils will be expected to come up with their own target.

The Government stands by its estimate that 4.4 million new households will be formed between 1991 and 2016 in England. But ministers want to devolve more power to the regions over levels of housebuilding. If too few homes are provided, and this leads to emigration, overcrowding and rising property prices, they want monitoring to pick this up and allow more housing land to be allocated.

From now on, housebuilders seeking planning permission for greenfield sites will have to demonstrate that there is no suitable derelict, urban land nearby. Vacant sites near to bus routes, railway stations, workplaces, shopping centres and other facilities will be favoured above more remote ones.

The Department of the Environment will also set up a database on how land is used in England. Until now, the debate has been bedevilled by a dearth of data on how much vacant and contaminated land there is. There were no details in yesterday's statement about how the new survey would be financed.