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Milton Keynes bails Labour out by taking extra homes...

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Milton Keynes is 'throwing the government a life belt' by aiming to use tree-surrounded housing grids to double its population, contrasting with last week's Tory calls for towns to be ringed by greenbelts.

The council has drawn up a report which proposes the massive jump in population to 400,000 just as other cities are opposing numbers thrust upon them by central government. The people will live in linear developments focused on tram or bus routes. HOW: A More Sustainable Milton Keynes says the expansion could involve three parallel lines of 1km2 grid squares with the public transport routes running through the middle of each line of grids.

Three- or five-storey homes, shops and offices would flank the tram or bus routes. Middle-density homes with front and back gardens would fan out behind these areas. The new linear developments could run between nearby towns and puncture green belts, said the author Mike O'Sullivan, the council's chair of transport.

'Milton Keynes is throwing the government a life belt by offering to accommodate more than its share of the region's housing shortfall,' he said. 'The trouble with the city now is low density and car ownership. Vehicles could go in four-storey car parks and you could even charge people for owning cars.' Residents would benefit from easy access to the town centre and the countryside, he said. There would be more shops and more jobs.

riba's planning advisor Wendy Shillam welcomed the move. 'Milton Keynes is taking the initiative and more councils will do likewise. There is a policy vacuum because of the time lag between the Urban Task Force report and the urban white paper. The white paper may limit what councils can do and they are refusing to wait for it to happen.'

However she warned against 'rubber-stamp housing' and a return to post- war building that saw blocks go up in as little as 14 weeks. 'There is the danger of an absence of well-thought-out government policies. Some cities build to extremely high density with no thought of safeguarding quality design.'

Meanwhile, the Tories announced plans this week to give councils the power to create green belts around every town in an effort to safeguard the countryside. The announcement is the latest counter-attack on Labour's planning policies. Last week shadow detr secretary John Redwood likened government housing and planning strategy to taking a 'carpet knife to an old master.'

Redwood was commenting on recommendations from government inspectors that 1.1 million homes were needed in the south east. He was joined in his condemnation by the Council for the Protection of Rural England, which passed an emergency resolution damning the figure.

However, another report this week, by the National Housing Federation, said the south east needed 1.4 million new homes by 2016 with 410,000 of them affordable. Who Needs Housing? said demand was racing ahead of supply and south-east house prices were five times the average annual income. Employers were having to raise wages to attract staff.

Jed Griffiths, a former Royal Town Planning Institute president and environmental- planning expert, said the Tories' plans were negative. 'There are far more effective policies, such as green wedges and strategic gaps which are put together in consultation with local people and councils. We need more sensitive local planning.'

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