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Rebellion hits Kent housing plans

The South East England Regional Assembly (SEERA) has dealt a major blow to the government's plans for a massive house-building programme in the region.

The unelected chamber - which is made up of councillors, business leaders and other high-profile figures from the region - voted overwhelmingly to reject the level of new homes recommended by ODPM planners.

The move, led by Conservative county-council leaders, will at the very least delay the planned building programme because the government proposals will now have to win the green light from a massive planning inquiry. Most badly affected is likely to be the area around Ashford in Kent, earmarked in the government's 2002 Sustainable Communities Plan for a large-scale house-building effort.

The rebellion was fronted by Kent County Council's leader Sandy Bruce-Lockhart and backed by all the other county-council leaders from the region.

'Of course we need more houses for Kent's own young people, first-time buyers and for the more elderly people living alone - this is exactly what we have planned for, ' he said before the meeting.

'The present regional planning guidance of 28,000 homes more than allows for this. The problem is that on top of this the SEERA proposals call for up to 36,000 houses a year, which is a quite staggering increase. What is the point of moving more and more people into an already overcrowded South East?' Bruce-Lockhart asked.

And the move has, unsurprisingly, won the support of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, which backed Bruce-Lockhart's motion. 'This is excellent news, ' the organisation's head of planning, Henry Oliver, said. 'The government will certainly not be happy about it. The fact is that in large chunks of rural England we ought to be looking at business as usual when it comes to house building.'

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