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Report warns house building plans could increase flooding risk


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Earlier this month, Prime Minister Gordon Brown set out his ambition for 3 million new homes by 2020 - 250,000 more than the Government's previous target.

A Government-commissioned report has warned that extra house building in the South-East could increase the risk of flooding and create intense pressure to develop the protected Green Belt, it emerged today.

The report's warnings were revealed on the eve of tomorrow's publication of the housing Green Paper, which is expected to outline plans to expand England's housing stock - possibly including a commitment to 20,000 more social rented homes a year.

Housing minister Yvette Cooper today named home-building as one of the Government's top priorities for the coming years, and warned it would be "shameful" to neglect the younger generation's need for affordable places to live.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Gordon Brown set out his ambition for 3 million new homes by 2020 - 250,000 more than the Government's previous target.

Many of these properties are expected to be located in the South-East, where prices have rocketed in recent years, in part due to the shortage of homes to house workers drawn to London's booming economy.

But the report by planning experts Roger Tym & Partners highlighted a set of risks if building in the crowded region is increased beyond the current planned rate of 29,000 units a year.

The report, obtained by the Conservatives, warns that additional house-building has "the potential to increase the risk of flash flooding" and will have "a negative effect... on the objective to reduce the risk of flooding" in areas like south Hampshire, the Sussex coast, central Oxfordshire and the Thames Gateway in Kent.

It also said that increasing housing targets would require "more space for development and therefore will need to use a greater amount of greenfield land". Building could have "a negative effect on the character of the countryside", as well as driving up road congestion, train over-crowding and water shortages.

Shadow local government secretary Eric Pickles said: "Gordon Brown's empty promise that he would protect the Green Belt has been exposed as a sham."

"His own Government consultants are warning that Labour's building plans will lead to environmental destruction on a massive scale."

"We face the prospect of more flooding, transport misery, water shortages and concrete mixers covering the Green Belt. Quality of life will suffer."

"We need to build more homes. Yet Labour's policies are only going to deliver sprawling housing estates and high-density tower blocks, without proper infrastructure."

"Gordon Brown is going to build the sink estates of the 21st century, and local residents will be powerless to stop the unelected bureaucrats of an unelected Prime Minister."

A spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government said: "The Green Paper is very clear on the need to ensure new homes are built in safe and sustainable locations, which re-use brownfield land and are properly protected against flooding."

"It is the job of the planning system to rigorously test any development plans and their potential impact. People should not run stupid scare stories to hide the fact they simply don't want new homes to be built."

"There is no change to rules giving strong Green Belt protection."

The spokesman said the Government was working closely with local authorities to help those hit by flooding, many of whose homes were built long before the current planning rules were put in place.

"We have introduced new planning laws to safeguard homes from flooding which are backed by the Association of British Insurers and the Environment Agency," he said. "We have also made the Environment Agency a statutory consultee for applications in flood risk areas."

Writing in The Observer today, Ms Cooper said her watchword - echoing Bill Clinton - was now "it's about building more homes, stupid".

She warned of a growing gap between housing haves and have-nots and said it was "unfair" that young people's chances of joining the property ladder should depend on whether their parents and grandparents have equity to pass on from their own homes.

"The ever-decreasing handful who oppose new building are sticking their heads in the sand," said Ms Cooper.

"Britain needs more homes, better homes and more affordable homes."

She said she wanted to see not only new housing for sale on the private market, but also an increase in social housing, shared equity homes and shared ownership schemes.

"Across the country, councils need to do more to identify sustainable sites with the priority for brownfield land and disused public sector sites," she said.

"Too often the local planning system responds to the vocal cries of those campaigning against new homes and fails to hear the quieter pleas from first-time buyers, overcrowded families or those on the council waiting list."

The British Property Federation predicted that tomorrow's Green Paper will include a commitment to an additional 20,000 social rented homes a year, as well as extra state funding for shared equity schemes.

The BPF called for measures to encourage institutional investment in expanding the private rented sector as a "middle ground" between social housing and home-ownership

Director for residential policy Ian Fletcher said: "While it is clear that any additional funding will ultimately put a roof over someone's head and the Government has finally grasped the initiative to do something, this new funding will not reach full effect until sometime into the next decade."

"And even then it will still struggle to meet demand. Households will continue to form and the backlog of people needing houses will continue to accumulate."

"The immediate solution for many will be the private rented sector... With a bit of imagination, and for the sake of a few minor tax and planning concessions, pension fund money could be delivering quality long-term rental and shared equity solutions."

Copyright - Press Association 2007

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