Deputy prime minister to hold public meeting after local government rejects plans to build 18,000 homes

Deputy prime minister John Prescott is set to use his political muscle to force the East of England regional assembly to accept extra housing despite its decision to reject plans for 18,000 extra homes last week.

The news came as the government shelved plans that would have allowed local authorities to dictate housing type to housebuilders, after an industry backlash.

Prescott is to try to reverse the decision at a public meeting scheduled for the new year where private developers, the East of England Development Agency and the ODPM will meet with the regional assembly to discuss the issue.

It is likely that the government will object to the regional assembly’s decision to block the 18,000 homes, which are in addition to the 478,000 homes already earmarked for the area before 2021.

The decision to reject the extra 18,000 houses, which would have been built over 20 years, could actually result in an increase in housing development. This is particularly true of the Cambridge area, which is expected to experience a rapid growth in employment that is not catered for by an equivalent rise in accommodation.

One insider said the report that would follow the public meeting, to be drawn up by the planning inspectorate, could recommend as many as 26,000 extra homes a year for the region to make up the disparity. At present, 23,900 a year are planned.

The insider said: “The assembly has shot itself in the foot here. The ODPM isn’t going to look kindly on this at a time when the area is desperate to be allocated infrastructure funding. They could actually end up with more housing.”

Meanwhile, it is understood that last week the House Builders Federation met planning minister Keith Hill to discuss its dispute over proposed changes to planning guidance PPG3.

The assembly has shot itself in the foot. It could actually end up with more housing

The proposals, which were leaked to a select group of housing experts, would have given local authorities the powers to dictate to housebuilders the size, type and affordability of the house types in projects of more than 15 dwellings.

According to HBF insiders, the two sides agreed a delay of up to six weeks in order for the industry to consult. A spokesperson for the ODPM said it aimed to publish the guidance by the end of the autumn. However, insiders said the government might attempt to bring it out with other planning legislation in the new year.

The delay will be seen as a victory for the housebuilders, who lobbied hard for the guidance to be delayed at least until the ODPM published two good practice guides.

Housing expert Roger Humber called the government’s proposed changes to PPG3 “a bridge too far”.

He said: “The government needs to work out whether it wants more regulation or to deliver its housebuilding targets.”

  • The ODPM faces further revolts from the industry over plans being developed to abolish outline planning consents.

According to insiders, the change would force developers to take on much greater initial risk on schemes, without the safety net of agreeing a project in principle.