Local residents vow to fight on against eco-town
Local residents packed into Yapton and Ford Village Hall on Friday evening (14 November) to express their continuing opposition to the proposal to build an eco-town at Ford.
Around 250 residents from Ford, Yapton, Climping, Walberton, Barnham, Arundel and other neighbouring towns and villages were at the meeting to receive a progress report from members of Communities Against Ford Eco-Town (CAFE). They also had an opportunity to ask questions.
CAFE campaign Chairman Terry Knott and Vice-Chairman Vicky Newman provided an update on the campaign and urged local residents to respond to the Government's latest round of public consultation which ends on 19 February.
Local residents were urged to submit formal responses to the draft Planning Policy Statement (PPS), which could enable ministers to force through controversial eco-town proposals across the country, and on the specific plans for Ford.
West Sussex MPs Nick Herbert (Arundel & South Downs) and Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis & Littlehampton) spoke at the meeting, both paying warm tributes to the CAFE team who have given up so much of their spare time to manage an effective behind-the-scenes campaign.
In his speech, Mr Herbert said that he believed that the Government would substantially reduce the number of eco-town projects, and that Ford should not be on the final list: "In any objective assessment, because of all the issues raised tonight - the lack of infrastructure, the A27 problem, the fanciful ideas about a waste treatment plant that have already been dismissed by the County Council, and expecting half the people in an eco-town to have no cars - Ford is the wrong place. I believe that the strength of these arguments will win the day, provided that we maintain pressure."
Mr Herbert discussed the political situation, saying: "I think the great shame, really, is that politics has got into this at all. Here all of you are, members of quiet rural communities in West Sussex, drawn together on a Friday evening when we'd all rather be doing something else, because people are playing politics with our communities.
"One of the things that I think has been unforgivable has been the campaign of people in other villages, not so far from here, who were promoting the Ford site as a means of preventing development in their own community, deliberately setting one community against another. That is not the way to protect our local communities. It is no way to behave towards fellow West Sussex residents. And, frankly, I think that campaign was an absolute disgrace.
"I congratulate CAFE for not getting involved in party politics. I think they are very, very wise not to have done so. Like the hospital campaigns, they have been run as community campaigns, focusing on the issues and trying to stop the eco-town being built here.
"I am absolutely convinced that this eco-town proposal is wrong and unfair to our local communities. And that's why I will continue to oppose it with all the strength that I can muster."
Mr Gibb spoke about the shortage of affordable housing, saying: "There's a great demand, particularly from young couples, who want to get onto the housing ladder and can't afford to do so. Even today, with a huge drop in house prices, it is still very difficult for young people to get on the housing ladder.
"But we know that here. Arun District Council has spent two years identifying sites where new houses are to be built. They looked at this area at Ford, and they've had consultants hired to examine the feasibility of putting some of the housing in this area and they have rejected it on a whole range of grounds. It's not a suitable place.
"What I particularly object to is the democratic deficit here. We have a wonderfully devolved planning process that takes into account local opinion and local knowledge. Elected local councillors make decisions about planning, and they are often difficult decisions. These decisions need to be taken locally, by locally elected people who are accountable to the local electorate. That is what our planning law has developed into over many decades.
"This eco-town process will bypass the whole of that. Caroline Flint's successor as Housing Minister, Margaret Beckett, will make those decisions for us. That's simply not acceptable in our democratic process."
After the meeting, CAFE co-chairman Terry Knott commented: "I was very pleased to see such a significant turn-out on Friday, from the local Arun community, remembering that this hare-brained scheme affects some 14 different parishes and towns. It was also of note that not a single person spoke in support of a so-called eco-town at Ford.
"We all believe in building eco-friendly housing now and there is a significant need for affordable housing too, but not here. The Government needs to stop bullying the local community and hand back decision-making to our locally elected representatives, who know where it is feasible and practical to build."
CAFE vice-chairman and Yapton resident Vicky Newman commented: "CAFE had standing room only at our meeting. This clearly demonstrates that the strong feeling against the Ford eco-town proposal remains as strong as ever.
"If the Government and the developers hope that this community will lose interest by a drawn-out process allowing an eco-town to slip through unnoticed they have an unwelcome surprise in store. It is apparent that the local community will fight on until Ford is taken off the eco-town shortlist."
Money raised on the night will be donated to the BBC's Children in Need appeal.
Notes for Editors
1. The full address of the venue is Yapton & Ford Village Hall, Main Road, Yapton, West Sussex BN18 0ET.
2. For the website of CAFE, visit http://www.nofordecotown.com/
3. For the campaign blog, visit http://www.nofordecotown.blogspot.com/
4. CAFE can be contacted at PO Box 123, Arundel, West Sussex BN18 8BF, telephone 07721 300330 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Its Patron is the Duke of Norfolk.