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'I am sorry that we cannot welcome John Prescott. But it is no surprise that he is not here,' said Archie Norman, s...
'I am sorry that we cannot welcome John Prescott. But it is no surprise that he is not here,' said Archie Norman, shadow environment secretary, speaking at a meeting of council leaders called to discuss housing targets across the south east.

Mr Norman continued: 'John Prescott has bottled out. Not because he is on one of his exotic trips to Japan or Brazil and not because he is too busy. He quite simply does not want to hear. He knows his policy is unpopular.

'The last thing he wants to do is draw attention to it in the run up to the local elections and he thinks he can get away with the statement he made to the house of commons, some three weeks ago, which was little short of sheer deception:

- Claiming that he had moved from 'predict and provide' to a more decentralised system when he was coming down from Hull to issue a central diktat over-riding the wishes of almost every council leader in the south east.

- Talking about a five-year period before review when everyone knows that every local plan has effect for 10 years or more.

- Talking about an annual total of 43,000 houses as opposed to the 900,000

houses that can be compared to the SERPLAN targets or the Crow report.

- Imagining that by talking about terraced housing as if he had just discovered it, the extra 200,000 houses can be built without using any greenfield land.

- Reassuring his own people that none of the occupants of these houses were going to come from the cities or the North, when in fact a very high proportion will.

'Britain's population is broadly speaking, static. The government's own figures demonstrate that 80% of the growth in the household demand is for single people. Most of these are elderly people living on alone.

'As a nation our task is not to build luxury homes in the countryside. It is to convert our existing accommodation in our towns and cities to make it suitable for single people and elderly people as well as income generating families.

'Our task is to tackle the problem of traffic and road congestion, crowded hospitals and schools, by encouraging people to live where they work and where the existing infrastructure is in place.

'Let's not pretend either that the infrastructure is there to accommodate the new housing in the South East. We estimate that 2000 km of roads will be needed, 300,000 new school places and 2000 - 3000 new hospital beds.

'None of this is provided for. None will be financed and if anything resource is being switched away from the expanding counties to those that are in decline as a result of the very same policy.

'Let me today promise you that I and other Conservatives will fight every

inch of the way to oppose this policy. The Labour government's policy is quite simply to build the wrong houses in the wrong places.'

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