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Housing targets should be revised downwards - MPs; Message sparks anger in region.

Byline: Sam Wood

THE building of thousands of vital new homes in the North East has been thrown into doubt by a report from a Government committee.

The Environment Select Committee said yesterday that the economic downturn should mean that targets for house building over the next few years are revised downwards.

Under the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) for the North East, about 45,000 homes are due to be built by 2016, across the region in Northumberland, Tyne and Wear and County Durham.

The Government has set a target of three million homes nationally.

But the committee, in its report released yesterday, said the figure should be reviewed as they could mean homes which are not needed being built in the green belt and impacting negatively on the environment.

The committee wants the Government to analyse the environmental impact of its targets.

Among the recommendations of the report were: "That the Government urgently reviews the assumptions on which the three million homes target was based and whether it is still justified on the basis of the latest economic growth projections, fundamental changes in the mortgage market and house prices which are falling anyway." The report suggests: "The Government should suspend the implementation of its regional spatial strategies until it has carried out and published an environmental appraisal of its house-building targets."

Last night, Alex Watson, chairman of the North East Regional Assembly, which created the RSS, blasted the report. He said: "It's totally ridiculous.

There is a desperate need for new housing in the North East. If we don't get these new homes the workforce of the region is just going to leave.

Waiting lists for houses are increasing all the time despite the credit crunch.

We need more homes."

Durham MP Roberta Blackman-Woods said: "My constituency has some of the worst housing affordability problems in the country.

I thought the RSS didn't provide enough new homes as it was."

But Newcastle MP Jim Cousins insists a revision of the Regional Spatial Strategies is necessary. He said: "A lot of the plans I have seen are not based on reality. They are proposals for huge numbers of new homes which were not going to happen even when the economy was in a good shape. They were not viable economically or environmentally.

"There is no point putting in planning permission for thousands of new homes which no one will want to build.

"The entire Regional Spatial Strategy needs to be looked at again."

There is a desperate need for housing in the North East . . . waiting lists are increasing

'NOW NOT THE TIME TO SCALE BACK'

IN response to the Environmental Select Committee's report, Housing Minister Margaret Beckett said: "No one should be in any doubt of our commitment to greener homes and to cutting carbon emissions.

"We have shown we can build the homes that are needed whilst protecting the environment, green spaces, and preventing urban sprawl. Now is not the time to scale back on long term ambitions because of current economic difficulties.

We need to be ready for the recovery and to be able to meet long-term demand.

"Those who argue against more homes need to seriously think about the future consequences for families on waiting lists, or those living in overcrowded homes, or struggling to get on the ladder."

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UNEXPECTED VIEW A Government committee says the economic downturn should mean targets for house building until 2016 are revised downwards.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Nov 3, 2008
Words:574
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