28 July 1997
Housing plans threaten rural England

THE government is planning to relax restrictions and allow up to 2 million homes to be built in the countryside – despite portraying itself as environmentally friendly.

The move could lead to the conversion of millions of acres of “greenfield” land into housing estates, especially in already overcrowded counties such as Hampshire, Suffolk and Dorset.

Labours housing spokesman and environment minister Nick Raynsford said last week: “It is simply not acceptable to make people in urban environments live in unacceptable ways just to protect the countryside.”

The growing demand for new housing – 4.4 million homes are needed by 2016 – emerged under the previous Tory government. The amount of land needed for development is equivalent to 10 cities the size of Bristol. At the time, the Tories tried to defuse the situation as they went into election mode by pledging that 75% of new homes would be built on reclaimed land – so-called “brownfield” sites – in urban areas. Housing experts estimate that without such restrictions the countryside will have to find room for 2 million more homes.

Labours plan to disregard the Tory pledge was first revealed in a confidential memo issued by Raynsford in the run-up to the election. It informed party colleagues that Tory government targets should not be adhered to because it would lead to gross overcrowding in cities and towns.

Mr Raynsford said it would be “wrong” to create dense urban housing estates to meet unrealistically high targets for brownfield sites in a bid to save parts of the countryside.

The Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) warned that attempts to open up the countryside to developers would provoke fierce protests. Its figures show that 270,000 acres of countryside are swallowed up by developers each year. By 2016 an area the size of Hampshire will be lost.

The Sunday Times 27/07/97 page 1