Decision today on massive house-building proposal

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Indy Politics

A decision will be made today on whether to build up to 500,000 homes in the east of England.

A decision will be made today on whether to build up to 500,000 homes in the east of England.

The East of England Regional Assembly will rule on the plans for properties stretching from Norfolk to Buckinghamshire, which the Government maintains are vital to provide affordable housing.

Most of the building would take place in corridors along the M1 and M11, with particular concentration between Peterborough and Cambridge, and around Stevenage and Milton Keynes.

However, an independent report has warned development on such a grand scale would cause environmental problems.

Consultants Levett-Therivel warned the housing problems would lead to a water crisis, pose a risk to landscapes and harm wildlife.

The plans will be ratified by the full assembly on November 5 - if the committee approves the proposals today - ahead of a public inquiry.

The Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott announced the four housing "hot spots" earlier this year at Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, Ashford in Kent, the Cambridge-Stansted corridor and the Thames Gateway.

The Government's aim is to provide affordable homes for key workers in the capital like teachers, nurses and firemen who have been priced out of the London market.

The proposals were criticised in August by regional council leaders who claimed hosepipe bans and severe water shortages could be a regular event for millions of families because of the housebuilding plans.

Keith Mitchell, chairman of the South East County Leaders and leader of Oxfordshire County Council, called for more money to be spent on water supply and sewage treatment to avert a crisis.

"Plans to build more than half a million new homes in the south east highlight the failure of Government housing policy," he said.

"Without more investment in water supply and sewage treatment, millions of families living in the south east risk regular hosepipe bans and severe water shortages."

South East Counties said that housing estimates have already been increased, but policy makers are failing to get to grips with the scale of infrastructure investment required if the new homes are to be sustainable, and places where families really want to live.

Eight million people live in the south east, but it is also one of the driest regions of the UK, with an average rainfall of 600mm-900mm a year.

South East Counties research found that less than half of this rainfall recharges water resources, leaving the south east (58,000 gallons/266,000 litres per head) with less water per head than Syria (95,000 gallons/434,000 litres per head).

Using publicly available figures, the South East Counties calculate that families living in the proposed 500,000 new homes will create new demand, every day, equivalent to more than 2.5 times the supply from Bewl Water.

Agencies and authorities preparing the South East Plan have already acknowledged that public water supplies are at critical levels, with demand close to exceeding supply.

Preliminary modelling by the Environment Agency predicts the environment will come under great pressure and many customers will face water restrictions without new sources of water, or significant changes in consumption.