John Prescott’s plans for South-east housing growth come under severe criticism from panel of urban advisers

The government’s former urban advisers are set to call for the sustainable communities plan to be scrapped.

Richard Rogers’ reconvened Urban Taskforce is to produce a report that will severely criticise John Prescott’s growth areas, saying they must be reduced in size and linked to towns and cities.

The draft report, a copy of which has been obtained by Building, urges the government to: “Use Strategic Environment Assessment to review the growth areas, reduce their size, increase their sense of urbanism and link them more closely to existing towns and cities.”

Tony Burton, director of policy and strategy at the National Trust, said the group was concerned that urban renewal was being substituted by an emphasis on sustainable communities and the growth areas.

He said: “We will not outrightly recommend that the sustainable communities plan be scrapped, but our conclusions will imply this.

“It would be one way of interpreting the taskforce’s recommendations.

“We want the report to help David Miliband and John Prescott address the more controversial aspects of the sustainable communities plan.”

The influential group, which includes eminent planner Sir Peter Hall and Ricky Burdett, the architectural adviser to mayor Ken Livingstone, is also set to recommend increasing the national target for housing on developed land. Burton said the growth areas should cover less greenfield land and concentrate on urban areas.

“Our conclusions will imply the communities plan should be scrapped”

Our conclusions will imply the communities plan should be scrapped

Tony Burton, National Trust

He said: “Activity needs to be focused on existing urban areas – for example in Milton Keynes, there are chances to expand within the boundaries of the city instead of building outside them.

“We want a more urban-focused approach.”

The draft report also addresses concerns about maintaining high design standards. It recommends:

  • Hard-wiring design into delivery vehicles responsible for creating and funding sustainable communities.
  • Making it compulsory to have a design professional on each of their boards as a champion.

Under the taskforce’s recommendations it would also be compulsory for the architect who conceived a scheme to be retained by the developer throughout the design and build of the scheme.

Both Burton and Alan Cherry, another member of the taskforce and chairman of Countryside Properties, were keen to point out that the final report would have a positive tone and would give due praise to urban achievements so far.

Cherry said: “It’s a review of where we are, where we can be and how we should review our approach to regeneration. We’re just looking at how to do it better.”

The news comes as Rogers recently commissioned a six-month study into how a city with a population of 700,000, known as City East, could be built at the London end of the Thames Gateway. This runs counter to Prescott’s plan, which envisages housing across the whole growth area, where there is less infrastructure and services.