Pay up on homes, ministers urged

STEVE DOWNES Ministers faced fresh calls to find the cash to pay for the impact of more than 78,000 new homes in Norfolk. Members of the county council's planning and transportation review panel warned the government must guarantee to fund the growth earmarked for the county to avoid the risk of gridlock on the roads, overcrowding in schools and pressure on health services, and energy and water supplies.

STEVE DOWNES

Ministers faced fresh calls yesterday to find the cash to support more than 78,000 new homes in Norfolk.

Members of the county council's planning and trans-portation review panel said the government must guarantee to fund the growth earmarked for the county to avoid the risk of gridlock on the roads, overcrowding in schools and pressure on health services, and energy and water supplies.

Councillors were respond-ing to the government's housing green paper, which looks to up the number of low-cost homes and build a series of eco-towns, possibly at sites such as the former RAF Coltishall airbase.

The county is committed to the extra housing and jobs totals as part of the East of England Regional Plan - equal to four towns the size of Dereham being built in the greater Norwich area alone, and job growth equal to five new Norwich Unions.

Adrian Gunson, cabinet member for planning and transportation, warned that it would be foolish to build the homes without the money to pay for the infrastructure.

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"If we are to have all these houses, then it's crucial we get all the infrastructure to go with it," he said. "It's the lack of co-ordination between the jobs and the houses and all various types of infra-structure which I think is the most worrying thing about the government's approach. I am alarmed at the lack of democratic accountability.

"It's not just about the people coming to the area but those already living here who are finding increasing queues at the doctors' surgeries, increasing congestion on the roads and more children in the classroom," he said.

Lib Dem councillor Tim East said: "It's absolutely crucial ministers commit to provide the appropriate level of infrastructure to support these numbers of houses for the next 30 years."

He added the best way to help the city grow would be to lobby regional minister Barb-ara Follett to secure funding for a complete northern bypass (NDR) instead of the current three-quarter route.

But Mike Jackson, the council's director of planning and transportation, cautioned against a policy shift.

"My personal view is that if we want to make good progress on securing improved strategic transport links to Norfolk, the worst thing we could do is reopen the question of the NDR in terms of our credibility with regional and national government," he said.

Last week, the government pledged that councils could win a share of a £500m reward if they speeded up the building of low-cost houses for young families and first-time buyers to meet the prime minister's target for an extra three million homes.

Housing and planning min-ister Yvette Cooper unveiled a package of proposals to accelerate the building of the homes, ensuring they are greener and the focus is on brownfield land.

Councils will be required to identify at least five years of sites ready for housing and a further 10 years'-worth for future development. And those which speed up housebuilding, to meet the government's ambition of 240,000 new homes per year, will receive a share of the new funding incentive.

The final consultation response will be determined at the council's cabinet meeting on October 8.

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