AN EXTRA 31,000 homes would need to be built in Huntingdonshire in the next 20 years to keep house prices affordable, according to Government figures. The rate of new house-building would have to treble from the current 500 to 550-a-year that was being ac

AN EXTRA 31,000 homes would need to be built in Huntingdonshire in the next 20 years to keep house prices affordable, according to Government figures.

The rate of new house-building would have to treble from the current 500 to 550-a-year that was being achieved before the building slump began earlier in 2008.

Government proposals for the period from 2001 to 2021 envisaged 11,200 additional homes in the district, on top of the 63,000 that were occupied when the 2001 census was taken.

Around 8,500 are either built or in the planning process, and land for a total of around 14,000 has been identified for the period up to 2026.

But new figures from the National Housing and Planning Advice Unit suggest that, to stop real house prices rising to unaffordable levels, as many as 31,000 extra homes could be needed in the district by 2031.

Planners say would be completely unsustainable environmentally.

The NHPAU predicts a minimum requirement of just fewer than 17,000 extra homes by 2031.

This would imply a further 2,900 homes between 2026 and 2031 (on top of the 14,000 already identified) - something strategic planners could confidently cope with.

But the unit's assumption that, if economic growth continues and affordability can be maintained, there will be demand for more than 31,000 extra homes - a shortfall of more than 17,000 in Huntingdonshire.

Cambridgeshire County Council and its five district planning authorities have commissioned consultants to crunch the numbers and explain how so many new homes - 52,000 more across the county than originally planned for, and even the original number was more than planners thought feasible - could be provided.

"It remains an aspiration for us to prosper and continue to grow, but that's not feasible sustainably at the upper end of the assumptions," the county council's head of strategic planning, Mark Vigor, told The Hunts Post. "We can still test the assumptions, but they not achievable on the timescale.

"We can identify land for any level of growth, but that just creates serious questions of sustainability.

"I think there will be more home-working in the future, but it won't eliminate the need for travel or the office environment. It's not just about numbers. It's about people's lives as well," he added.

Huntingdonshire District Council's head of planning Steve Ingram added: "The 3,000 shortfall would be relatively easy to find but 17-18,000 more is a different kettle of fish."

It would raise once again the prospect of development of Alconbury Airfield for housing, an idea that was turned down when the East of England Regional Assembly's regional spatial strategy (RSS) was originally formulated a couple of years ago. (It is the urgent need to review the RSS that has thrown up the NHPAU scenarios now.)

"But Alconbury is still the wrong place for sustainable development to meet the Cambridge growth issue," Mr Ingram said. "And I don't think you could make it sustainable.

"It could throw up the possibility of [RAF] Wyton. It would be a big challenge for us. To be sustainable there must be more jobs and less commuting."

The 14,000 homes' sites already identified include 8,500 already built or in the planning process, including more than 1,000 at each of Loves Farm east of the railway in St Neots and Northbridge in the apex of the A14 and A141 in Huntingdon and Great Stukeley.

But a further 5,000 additional homes could be accommodated - including a possible eco-quarter - on land owned by the Oxford University-linked Nuffield Trust between the A428 and the East Coast main line railway, south of Loves Farm.