East of England body suspends support for 478,000 houses after government reneges on transport funding

The government’s housing plans for the South-east have suffered another body blow after a second key regional assembly rejected them.

The East of England regional assembly, which oversees two of the government’s four South-east growth areas, announced last week that it was suspending support for the government’s sustainable communities plan to build 478,000 houses in the area by 2021. The ODPM has already been knocked off course by the decision last month of the South East England regional assembly to set housing targets at a much lower rate.

The government will probably still be able to force through its plans at a later stage but the news is a political blow to deputy prime minister John Prescott, who set up the assemblies three years ago to speed up planning.

The East of England assembly voted 43-30 to withdraw support after a meeting last Tuesday with regeneration minister Lord Rooker, who admitted that vital infrastructure funding would not be forthcoming.

The assembly said that it was withdrawing its support because the government had not kept its side of the bargain to provide funding for important transport projects such as the widening of the A11 into Norfolk and improvements near Cambridge.

It said: “The East of England regional assembly deplores the government’s grossly inadequate funding of the transport infrastructure costs associated with the additional 478,000 houses planned for this region between 2001 and 2021 … It now regards its endorsement of the draft East of England Plan as suspended, pending a re-examination of the government’s willingness to support its own aspirations adequately in financial terms.”

One assembly insider described the meeting last week as “lengthy and acrimonious” and criticised the Tories for insisting on withdrawing support instead of trying to engage with the government.

He said: “It’s childish. Everyone was annoyed after the Rooker meeting, but the Tories insisted we withdraw support from the process. It’s political point scoring.”

Brian Stewart, the assembly’s chief executive, said that the time was right for it to be “flexing its political muscle”, but emphasised that the objections to the government’s programme were because of the lack of infrastructure funding.