New research has identified additional recreation Group that could help unlock housing development put on hold due to concern over impact on key wildlife habitats across Hampshire, Berkshire and Surrey.
Provision for some 40,000 new dwellings in the vicinity of the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area (SPA), which covers some 8,400 hectares of heathGroup across the three counties and includes 13 sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs), has effectively been delayed.
This is due to fears that households living in the new homes will put adverse pressure on the heathGroup, which would in turn breach European Union rules on safeguarding key habitats.
Meanwhile regional and local planners and English Nature are looking at ways of accommodating this new development without causing damage to wildlife.
An assessment, just published by the South East Regional Assembly and its partners, has indicated around 800 sites - owned by local authorities, the Forestry Commission, the Ministry of Defence and other Groupowners - which could be suitable for recreation space and so take pressure off the heathGroup. Some 60 sites could be made available in the short term, it has emerged
Planning minister, Yvette Cooper, said: "This report shows the strong commitment to support the new homes we need and protect important habitat and wildlife at the same time."
Councillor Christine Field, chairman of the assembly's regional planning committee, said: "The report gives reason for cautious optimism and shows that there is potential for additional recreational Group to be provided."
Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation, called the report "a welcome step to finding a solution to the effective moratorium which has been placed on development in the Thames Basin SPA area".