John Prescott's communities plan has a lot of support – if only we had a government that could actually deliver it
So how does it look in the cold light of dawn? The honest answer is probably that enthusiasm for deputy prime minister John Prescott's communities plan remains but a lot of questions about the details remain – and show little sign of being answered.

There is one overarching question that looms over the scheme: is the joined-up government in place to deliver it? Prescott's plan is not, after all, to build 200,000 homes: it is to build an additional 200,000 homes in four areas of the South-east. Three of these areas are likely to come under development pressure quite apart from the Prescott programme: Ashford and the Thames Gateway, because of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, and Stansted, as a result of additional runways at the airport.

The House of Commons select committee that shadows Prescott's department has been enquiring into the plan and witnesses are already raising serious questions about issues such as water supplies and flood defences for the new homes. Local MPs are attempting to quantify additional demands for medical services, schools, transport links and asking the question: "Has Gordon guaranteed the money?"

The truth is, we don't know. But as government programmes are, by definition, collective, the only workable assumption is that the implications for additional services must have been taken on board. The problem is that there is an alterative assumption: the development will take years to achieve and no chancellor can predict what economic circumstances will prevail when the bills start to fall on the mat. The accusation that the government has willed the end without the creating the means will be persistent and reasonable.

It is worth throwing into the pot the UN predication that the UK will have the fastest-growing population in Europe over the next 50 years, pushing numbers up by some 7 million. On past performance, some two-thirds of this increase will seek to settle in London and the South-east. The government itself admits the need to attract immigrants with skills the country needs. This may give more power to the elbow of those arguing that the government is merely fuelling demand in housing hot spots without a hope of achieving a sustainable balance between demand and supply.

There are also more specific issues giving cause for concern. These include the freedoms for local authority housing companies, the related questions of rules for large-scale voluntary transfers, and the powers and use of resources of the proposed regional housing boards.

Arm's length management organisations set up by three-star local authorities (under the new comprehensive performance assessment) can raise private finance and restructure debt on a par with LSVTs. But eligibility for ALMOs has been extended to two-star councils, which will not have the same freedoms and will still be tied to the subsidy system. But the details of the freedoms for the three-star councils and the subsidy regime for the two-star authorities have yet to be put in place. The government is clearly fearful of opening the floodgates to ALMO applications and seems nowhere near producing the rules to enable councils to plan.

LSVTs have had a rough time of late, though the new rules giving the government the power to meet the bills for early debt redemption by transfer authorities may help put more steam behind them. The communities plan slammed the door on any idea that the government had cooled on transfers: big authorities with major problems in meeting the decent homes target have the limited menu of LSVT, ALMO or PFI.

The government's insistence on the split between management role and strategic role is attracting accusations of dogmatism: Camden, for example, is a three-star housing authority, yet in practice is being told that it will only get housing investment by going down the ALMO route.

The government intends to distribute housing allocations through regional housing boards, bringing together the government's regional office, the Housing Corporation, English Partnerships and the relevant regional development agency. The intention is to fund the Housing Corporation for the big programmes, and local authorities (not represented on the boards) for small new-build and renewal programmes.

The fear among councils is that the bulk of the regeneration cash will go to the nine pathfinder projects and to the four growth areas for new build. These fears are particularly acute in the South-east where it is intended to set up a superboard allocating cash from a merged pot from the South-east, east England and London. Local authorities see that money disappearing inevitably into the four growth areas at the expense of big towns with serious problems of homelessness and demand like Oxford, Brighton, Southampton and Portsmouth.

John "Two Jags" Prescott has unveiled his machine: now he needs to get his head under the bonnet and show that the engine is in working order.