Nick Herbert slams eco-town claims
Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has warned that developers envisage a far greater scale of development at Ford than the 5,000 eco-town houses claimed.
Mr Herbert also strongly attacked "thoroughly misleading" claims that the development is on brownfield land.
The MP raised his concerns when he gave evidence to Arun District Council's eco-town Select Committee on Tuesday morning (27 May).
The Committee has been appointed to examine the proposals for an eco-town at Ford. It will hear evidence from developers, stakeholders and members of the public. The Committee will report back to the Council who will then respond to the Government's consultation.
In his opening remarks, Mr Herbert referred to public opposition to the proposals, saying: "I have found that my constituents have expressed near universal opposition to these proposals. Like the proposed downgrading of our local hospitals, it has been extremely difficult to find anybody amongst my constituents who has expressed support for what has been proposed."
Mr Herbert commented on a presentation given by promoters at the meeting and a newspaper advertisement taken out by the Ford Airfield Vision Group, saying:
"The presentation this morning was premised on the idea that there would be 5,000 new homes in the development. The advertisement says that there would be ‘a maximum of 5,000 homes.' I would like to know how that tallies with the original proposal submitted by the developers in 2000, the Barton Willmore proposal, which envisaged that eventually there could be 10,000 houses accommodating up to 25,000 people, and with the Vision Group's latest proposal, which explicitly states that ‘In the longer term the potential exists for further development to meet future development requirements.' My concern is that these 5,000 houses will be the beginning and not the end.
"I hope that the Committee will test very closely the claim of the developers that 30 per cent of the area that is to be developed is on brownfield land. Plainly, there is an attempt to brand this development by the Vision Group as Ford Airfield Eco-Town - the attempt that is being made is to try and suggest that the development is on wasteland or a brownfield site.
"I think we should question how much of this development is in fact on the site of the airfield and how much truly is brownfield land. How much of that claimed 30 per cent is in fact land under agricultural use? I think that the Committee, on closer examination, will find that most of the so-called brownfield land is in fact under agricultural use.
"Of the 350 hectares initially envisaged, 44 hectares will be brownfield - that's 13 per cent - and 306 will be agricultural land - that's 87 per cent. Those figures were skilfully mixed up in the Government's consultation paper that was published a few weeks ago, confusing hectares and acres. I hope that the confusion won't happen again.
"But I think it is very important that we establish precisely how much of this proposed development is in fact on greenfield land and having established that, I hope that we will hear no more of these thoroughly misleading claims that this proposal is on a brownfield site.
"And frankly, the claim that somehow this new development will help in the production of food, as we heard in the first presentation today, beggars belief.
"Have the developers, if they are so concerned about food production in this eco-town, made any assessment of how much loss of agricultural production there will be should this site be developed? And will the food, which is to be grown in the gardens of people in the eco-town, substitute for that loss of agricultural production? We are talking about agricultural land that is in fact prime agricultural land, being developed at a time of national and international food shortage, when prices are increasing, as we all know."
Mr Herbert said the issue of infrastructure was "absolutely critical" to the debate and continued: "We heard the uncertainty in the developers' proposals. I hope, this too, will be tested. Are there going to be two primary schools, or three? We heard the incredible suggestion that children from this development may actually go to other village schools.
"What assessment has been made of the impact on village schools in adjoining villages in the constituency? Do they have the capacity to accommodate additional pupils? What investment would be necessary to increase their size to accommodate that? And what would be the impact on small village schools if they suddenly became much larger and is that in the interests of educational opportunity and standards in our local schools?
"Has this proposal been thought through? And are 5,000 houses sufficient to warrant a secondary school?
"I think that gives rise to a very serious question which is, given the level of affordable housing to which the developers are committed, is this development of a sufficient scale that will allow infrastructure investment of the scale being claimed by the developers?
"They say in their advert that the ‘Ford Airfield Eco-Town' would provide all the necessary community facilities to ensure the town is sustainable, including shops, markets, a health clinic, a new secondary school, two primary schools, three apparently we heard today - two or three - they haven't made up their minds.
"They also say that any additional utilities and infrastructure will be funded and provided by the Vision Group and they claim that they will provide the investment to bring forward the Arundel bypass - a consummation devoutly to be wished.
"But is there sufficient resource in the development to provide affordable housing of a nature that is truly affordable and to provide investment on this scale? I think that is highly questionable, and I hope that the Committee will look at those issues very carefully indeed."
Mr Herbert added: "We have heard no mention, by the way, of policing as an issue. We have great concern in West Sussex about the inadequacy of policing in our villages. Here we would have a substantial new population, a community three times the size of Arundel.
"What impact will there be on policing and what proposals does the Vision Group have to support funding for policing at a time when the Police Authority is frequently going back to communities and asking them to make a contribution towards the cost of police community support officers? Perhaps that is another item which they have not sufficiently budgeted for."
On car travel, Mr Herbert commented: "I find the proposals for the level of car use quite implausible. If I understood correctly, the target was that only 25 per cent of travel should be by car, at worst 40 per cent.
"I hope that the Committee will look very carefully at whether that is truly deliverable in a West Sussex community. And what incentives and, indeed, penalties will be provided to ensure that that happens."
In his concluding remarks, Mr Herbert said: "I would like to question some of the motivations behind this proposal. We heard a lot this morning about ‘One Planet Living' from the Barton Willmore group, but when did they first submit this proposal? In the year 2000 - seven years before the notion of eco-towns was even considered. Their original proposal has simply been dressed up to fulfil the Government's requirements in relation to an eco-town.
"And we heard a lot about the motivation from the Enterprise Hub but very little about their apparent true motivation, which is to prevent further development in Aldingbourne. Let us have openness from the developers about what their true motivations are in coming forward with these proposals.
"I am extremely concerned about the subversion of the local planning process and the lack of clarity about whether the housing numbers will be additional to those proposed originally or in substitute. If they are in substitute, then I think that those decisions plainly should be made by the local authority.
"And I believe that the changing character of the area, the concreting over of a rural area between Peacehaven and Portsmouth, one of the last open areas, would irrevocably change the character of the local environment and our local communities. I remain implacably opposed to it."
The Select Committee meeting, held in public, was chaired by Arun District Councillor Graham Tyler. It will meet daily until Wednesday 4 June.
Notes for Editors
1. The Ford Airfield Vision Group's eco-town bid document, published in August 2007, stated that "Ford Airfield is a 360 hectare site comprising brownfield land between Littlehampton, Bognor Regis and Chichester next to Ford and Yapton" (http://www.fordairfieldecotown.co.uk/). However, the Vision Group's advertisements in local newspapers, published in May 2008, claimed that "30 per cent of the site is classified as brownfield land." CAFE has revealed that in fact 87 per cent of the site is greenfield land (http://www.nofordecotown.com/news006.html).
2. For further details of the Ford eco-town proposal and the select committee process, visit www.arun.gov.uk/ecotown.
3. For the website of CAFE, visit http://www.nofordecotown.com/.
4. CAFE is organising a protest march on Saturday 7 June 2008 at 10am on Yapton village green.
5. The consultation paper issued by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), entitled ‘Eco-towns: Living a Greener Future', can be viewed at http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/housing/pdf/livinggreenerfuture.pdf
6. Members of the public wishing to take part in the consultation can write to: Eco-towns Team, Housing and Growth Programmes, Communities and Local Government, 2/H9 Eland House, Bressenden Place, London, SW1E 5DU (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
7. The consultation ends on 30 June 2008.