Minister refuses to meet MPs over eco-town concerns
A Government Minister has refused to meet Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert and Bognor Regis and Littlehampton MP Nick Gibb to discuss proposals for an eco-town at Ford.
The MPs wrote to Communities and Local Government Secretary Hazel Blears requesting a meeting last month. But Parmjit Dhanda MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government, told them: "I regret that at this stage in the process, I am unable to meet with you."
The MPs held a meeting with Arun District Council leaders on Friday (1 February) to discuss their concerns about the proposal.
Mr Herbert and Mr Gibb were joined by Councillor Gillian Brown (Council Leader), Councillor Roger Elkins (Deputy Leader), Councillor Ricky Bower (Cabinet Member for Planning) and Howard Cheadle (Head of Planning Services and Housing Strategy).
The MPs pledged to renew their request for an urgent meeting with Ministers, and also to seek a Parliamentary debate on the issue.
Last July the Government launched proposals for new eco-towns of at least 5-20,000 homes to increase their overall house building target to 3 million homes by 2020. Bids were invited for the towns and two schemes have been submitted by developers for the Ford area.
The Department for Communities and Local Government is currently considering over 50 submissions nationally and an announcement is expected early this year.
Opposition to eco-towns is growing across the country. On Sunday (3 February), around 200 protesters marched at the site of a proposed eco-town in Long Marston, Warwickshire. Around 6,000 homes are planned for the former Army camp and protesters voiced their concerns about the impact of a new town on their local communities. They criticised the lack of public consultation on the proposal.
Arun District Council has already expressed its opposition to the way eco-towns are being promoted by the Government after the full Council met to discuss the issue on 9 January.
Ford was one of the locations considered by the Council's Local Development Framework Sub-Committee last August. Ford was rejected - the committee considered that other locations were more sustainable and more in line with the Regional Spatial Strategy for the South East.
The new towns would be in addition to the housing numbers announced in the South East Regional Plan. The Council states that, together with the increase in housing numbers in Arun already demanded under the Plan, even the smallest eco-town at Ford - 5,000 houses - would almost double Arun's initial housing target, to 16,000.
Formal protests have been lodged with the Government by Arundel Town Council and the parish councils of Ford, Yapton and Climping.
Ford village currently lies within the Arundel & South Downs constituency.
Nick Herbert commented: "The Government is subverting the proper planning process. These Eco-town proposals are being driven from Whitehall by Ministers, yet they are refusing to meet elected representatives to discuss the issues. This is profoundly undemocratic.
"We do need more homes, especially to help young people to get their foot on the property ladder, but this is not the way to do it. We already have a huge infrastructure deficit.
"Local authorities should have the power to make these decisions and ensure that development is sustainable."
Nick Gibb added: "Local people know the Ford area better than Whitehall mandarins and it's clear to us that this site is totally unsuited to new house building of the scale demanded by Government Ministers.
"The effect that house building on such a massive scale would have on the infrastructure and the natural environment is something that has simply not been considered by Whitehall. Nick and I will fight this proposal all the way."
Arun District Council leader Gillian Brown said: "I believe that the eco-town process excludes both local communities and Arun District Council, as the local Planning Authority, from the process of considering such projects within the proper planning process. This is a prime example of top-down Government."
Notes for Editors
1. For a BBC News report on the protest march against an eco-town in Warwickshire, visit http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/coventry_warwickshire/7224651.stm