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Overdevelopment

June 20, 2003 12:00 AM
By Dr. Vincent Cable MP in Richmond Informer

I hear growing disquiet amongst residents about the endless stream of new housing developments whether small 'infill' projects or new estates. The public debate over the council's Crane Valley proposal centres, essentially, on the issue of sacrificing green, Metropolitan Open Land for housing.

Developers, and the council, argue that there is a 'need' for much more housing and that objectors are 'NIMBYs'. I hear a related argument in parliament: that the best way to prevent excessive house price inflation is to increase supply by scrapping planning controls. These arguments are superficially plausible, but wrong.

There is a different problem: a shortage of homes to rent or buy for workers with low or middle incomes: teachers, bus drivers, police officers, street cleaners, lab assistants - people that we need for a balanced community. But few new homes are of this kind. Developers are making money locally from luxury or executive homes.

The borough is, in fact, building far more houses than expected by central government. There is an agreed 20-year target for 4840 new homes by 2015. Yet 80% of the houses are already built or committed. It is time to slow down.

Each additional home brings two new cars onto crowded roads and pressure on bulging schools which, in turn, require more play space. Cramming blocks of flats onto every patch of land destroys the environment for existing and new residents alike.

There is a wider problem. The remorseless pressure to develop our corner of London, and the SE - more housing, a new Heathrow runway, a wider M25 - is draining resources and economic vitality from the rest of Britain. For all our sakes, it is time to call a halt.