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The Guardian (p17) carries a feature discussing the problems facing John Prescott, the environment secretary, as he...
The Guardian (p17) carries a feature discussing the problems facing John Prescott, the environment secretary, as he tries to revitalise cities and reverse the decline in the north.

Mr Prescott's dilemma is how to balance rising demand for new homes, often from key workers such as nurses and teachers - and, increasingly, single people - with protecting the countryisde and, crucially, meeting a target of putting up to 60% of new homes on brownfield land.

There is also the problem of the desperate shortage in the south of lower cost, rented accommodation for people on average incomes, including young professionals. With house prices already five times average earnings in the region, even senior Tory councillors privately recognise that more 'social' homes will be needed - perhaps 40% of planned provision - to cope with demand.

As he prepares for a decision on whether to back proposals for 1.1 million homes to be built in the south-east by 2016, the minister is also facing criticism from another quarter - the old planning lobby, which stongly backs the 1.1m figure. It accused Mr Prescott of bowing to pressure from the countryside campaigners. David Lock, vice chairman of the Town and Country Planning Association, accuse them of a 'campaign of deliberate misrepresentation and personal vilification [against the DETR planning inspectors].

He fears that Mr Prescott will be forced into a policy of 'town cramming' because of impossibly high brownfield targets.

At the other extreme, the minister has to try to satisfy the architect, Lord Rogers of Riverside, whose urban task force last year called for tough measures - a tax on greenfield building and tax brakes for urban development - to curb the rural drift and help the repopulation of cities.

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