Call on John Prescott to state infrastructure needed to meet housebuilding targets

Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has asked the Deputy Prime Minister for his assessment of the infrastructure improvements needed to meet the Government’s targets for house building in the South East.

Mr Herbert has tabled a question to John Prescott against the backdrop of increasing concerns about the ability of West Sussex's infrastructure to cope with the huge number of new houses that the Government is proposing for the county.

In July, as part of its draft South East Plan, the unelected South East England Regional Assembly proposed 578,000 new houses in the South East for the next 20 years. 

This would mean 58,000 new houses (a town the size of Crawley) being built in West Sussex over the next 20 years - an annual average of 2,900. 

This figure could be still higher if John Prescott overrules SEERA's final plan when it is submitted in March next year.  The Deputy Prime Minister originally proposed 720,000 houses in the South East and has already criticised SEERA's lower number. 

Mr Herbert believes that there are already huge questions surrounding the ability of West Sussex's infrastructure to cope with the county's existing population, let alone many thousands more. 

The provision of water has been a major problem this summer, with a hosepipe ban covering much of the county; roads such as the A27 are regularly gridlocked and harming the regional economy; local hospitals are under increasing strain with mounting financial deficits and cutbacks to services, and many parents are unable to send their children to their school of first preference.

A report commissioned by the South East County Leaders estimated that it would cost £45 billion to provide the necessary infrastructure for the homes proposed in the draft South East Plan - the equivalent of over £13,000 per household in the South East, and one and a half times the Government's total annual capital budget.

In January the cross-party House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee said that the Government's housing plans were incoherent and backed with insufficient evidence.

Last month Mr Herbert, along with other West Sussex MPs, sponsored Francis Maude's Infrastructure Audit Bill, which would require an audit of existing or planned infrastructure in areas of significant housing development.

Mr Herbert said: "I do not believe that the Government has thought through the implications of house building on the scale proposed.  We already have gridlocked roads, local NHS cutbacks, oversubscribed schools and a water shortage.

"The capital investment required to meet the housing demanded by John Prescott is huge.  This is before taking into account the impact on the environment and countryside.

"It is essential that the Government conducts a proper audit of the infrastructure deficit in the South East, and explains how this is going to be addressed, before final housing numbers are set".



Notes for editors

1. The text of Nick Herbert's Oral Question to the Deputy Prime Minister is: ‘What assessment he has made of the infrastructure improvements required to meet his house-building targets in the South East?'

2. The question is scheduled for answer on Wednesday 16 November. As it is number 13 on the list it is unlikely to be reached in time to receive an oral reply, but in this case Mr Herbert will receive a written reply.

3. Francis Maude's Infrastructure Audit Bill is due to receive its Second Reading in the Commons on 14 July 2006. However, unless the Government gives it parliamentary time it is unlikely to make progress.

Christopher N Howarth