Paul de Zylva, campaigns co-ordinator for Friends of the Earth, called the plan ‘incredibly vague’ and ‘undeliverable’. He questioned whether residents would want to live in a commuter town. Simon Bandy, principal planning officer at Ashford Council, urged the government to resolve infrastructure constraints before going ahead with new development. A renewed government drive to tackle child poverty must not become a smokescreen to cover up its failings, campaigners have warned. Child poverty is one of three areas the Treasury will focus on prior to next year’s spending review, chancellor Gordon Brown said this week. Niall Cooper, co-ordinator of Church Action on Poverty, said: ‘We have to ensure the government doesn’t pick measures that will make it easier for them. We will have to be on our guard that it’s not a smokescreen. But he welcomed the Treasury’s review and said it could herald a change of direction to focus on key issues such as debt.

The Treasury will also conduct a review of childcare, after the Commons work and pensions committee found demand for places exceeded supply despite extra cash. She said child tax credit, which pays up to 70% of childcare costs, fell short of what was required. If you have gone back to work part-time and are on the minimum wage you might only be better off by £45 a week. Robinson, director of Yorkshire and Humber Forum, said the sector had to maintain its independence if it was to play a greater role in service delivery.

Research bemoaning the poor state of London’s public services has pitched the prime minister against MPs over the most effective cure for the north-south divide. A 147-page analytical report by the prime minister’s strategy unit warned that the capital’s prospering economy is under threat and deprived inner city wards are suffering because of poor strategic focus.

Association of London Government chair Sir Robin Wales said: ‘It is important that the poverty in these pockets are recognised and tackled. This situation is ironic when, as the report says, Londoners give between £10-20bn a year more to the exchequer than they receive back in government expenditure. While supporting calls for more money, the London Development Agency said public funding had to be used in different ways to encourage London’s financial institutes, banks and other City investors to play their part in the revival of run-down areas, business start-ups and other regeneration projects.