Community representatives from the South East will decide later today whether or not to go ahead with plans to build 720,000 new homes in the region over the next 20 years, in response to the Deputy Prime Minister?s drive for affordable housing.

The South East of England Regional Assembly (SEERA), an unelected group of business and voluntary sector representatives, and councillors from every local authority within the region, is likely to approve the proposals, in spite of extensive criticism from local authority leaders.

The South East County Leaders group, made up of Conservative council leaders from the area, has condemned the plans, calling them ?half-baked?. They believe the blueprint does not include sufficient allowances for the development of the region?s infrastructure, such as schools and roads, to support the new homes.

Depending on their decision, the draft plans will be published in January for full public consultation.

UPDATE (5:07pm, 29/11/2004)

SEERA today rejected the proposed targets, deciding to ask people across the region whether they think 25,500, 28,000 or 32,000 homes should be built per year in the South East, instead of up to 36,000 as initially planned.

Cllr Keith Mitchell, Conservative Leader of Oxfordshire County Council and member of the South East County Leaders group, believes SEERA is profoundly undemocratic, and what little authority it might have claimed has been further undermined since the people of the North East voted against a directly elected regional assembly and forced the government into rethinking its national plans.

‘Only in southern Hampshire do planners believe that they can cope with these astronomical housebuilding plans that the South East is being asked to absorb. In every other part of the region there are huge reservations.

‘If these housebuilding plans are to be even remotely feasible we need the infrastructure to be in place in parallel with the new homes. Each year the South East contributes £18bn to the national exchequer. We will need a significant amount of that back to help pay for this but have so far received no assurances.’