Labour's housing plans have received a double blow as two of the most controversial new schemes are shelved, one of them following a government- versus-council court battle.
Hertfordshire council voted to delay the start of 10,000 homes west of Stevenage last week following conflicting messages from Downing Street. One of the planners, Paul Donovan, said the department was in limbo because of recent statements by deputy pm John Prescott suggesting a hardening of views on greenfield development.
'Mr Prescott has said we should recognise we have to make better use of brownfield sites,' he said. Environmental profiles are being made with a view to masterplanning the Stevenage homes. But the council has asked Prescott if it still has to provide the 10,000 homes, the first stage of the 65,000 homes needed in the county by 2011.
Meanwhile, Lewes District Council won a court victory against the government's decision to allow the building of 100 homes at Peacehaven. It may well be the first time the government has fought, and lost, a High Court challenge on a greenfield housing decision.
David Prentis, the council's assistant director of planning, said that the council was making a stand on who should review old housing plans. Lewes had gone back on an earlier decision to build at Peacehaven before the government gave the development the nod last autumn. 'Councils are encouraged by the government to review old applications,' he said. 'That is hard to do if you cannot do it through the local planning process.'
Friends of the Earth said the decisions were highly embarrassing for Prescott so soon after his planned move away from the 'simplistic predict- and-provide approach' towards increased flexibility.
Simon Festing, housing campaigner, called on Prescott to lower rural house-building targets. 'He cannot ride roughshod over the opinions of local people by allowing so much greenfield development,' he said.
The government has been forced to scale down plans for greenfield development from 50 to 40 per cent after public outcry, including the huge countryside march in London last month.