A Building investigation reveals South-east growth area plans are under fire

The South-east’s chief planner has warned the government’s growth area strategy is losing momentum.

Mike Gwilliam, the planning director of the South East England Regional Assembly said to Building: “Since the election, we have been losing momentum and coherence.”

His comments came as other leading housing experts signalled that growth areas across the South-east were failing to hit their targets for new housing. Figures compiled from local authority and regional assembly monitoring reports for 2003/04, the last year for which housing completion statistics are available, show an overall housing shortfall of 11.4%, or 1937 homes.

Gwilliam, who announced last week that he is retiring from the South-east assembly, gave as an example the ODPM’s failure since the election to convene a meeting of the steering group that had been established to drive forward development in the South Midlands–Milton Keynes growth area.

He said: “I want to be proven wrong, but there’s a danger of things unravelling.”

He expressed concern that communities minister David Miliband was focusing on major northern cities at the expense of the South-east growth areas. On 2 September, Building reported that Miliband was considering the possibility of scrapping one of the four growth areas.

Gwilliam also said that he was worried about the pace of delivery in the Thames Gateway, which has been slower than the schedule advised in a number of studies into the area’s regeneration.

Reports of delays in delivering the 200,000 additional homes needed by 2016 are emerging from other leading experts in the four growth areas: Stansted–Cambridge–Peterborough, the Thames Gateway, Milton Keynes–South Midlands and Ashford in Kent. This follows last week’s warning by Jon Rouse, the Housing Corporation chief executive, (23 September) that progress in the four areas was patchy.

Since the election we have been losing momentum

Mike Gwilliam, SEERA

Jackie Sadek, former Kent Thameside delivery board chief executive, said fewer homes were delivered in the Dartford area in the two years after the launch of John Prescott’s communities plan than in the equivalent period beforehand.

Robert Hardy, Kent council strategic planner, said that although there had been an increase in planning approvals in the county’s stretch of the Thames Gateway, there had not been a similar upswing in completions.

Progress on Bellway’s Barking Riverside 10,800-home scheme has also slowed because of uncertainty over whether the Docklands Light Railway will be extended to the area, which would improve its connections with central London.

Dale Meredith, development director of Southern Housing Group, one of Bellway’s registered social landlord partners, said: “We have already built properties but not to the plan that is now proposed. Higher densities require the DLR.”

Meanwhile, East Northamptonshire council has yet to grant permission for BeeBee Development’s Prior’s Hall application despite Corby council giving consent for its bigger share of the site.

Ben Derbyshire, managing director of architect HTA, which specialises in housing, said: “The housing growth area programme has been proceeding more slowly than people anticipated, but if people remembered the amount of planning that went into the original new towns they would not be so surprised.”