Local people "shut out" of eco-town decision

Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has criticised proposals to build an eco-town at Ford, saying that “local people are simply shut out of the argument”.


He was speaking on the BBC's Politics Show on Sunday afternoon (15 June) from Ford Airfield Market in West Sussex.  The market is held regularly on the concrete runways of the former military airfield.

Asked about the need for more housing, Mr Herbert said: "I think there is a need for more affordable homes.  We feel that very strongly locally, where housing is unaffordable for first time buyers.  But we're already getting 58,000 houses in West Sussex over the next 10 or 20 years.  That's a huge number and the Government may up the target.

"Who should take the decision about where these houses should go?  That's the big question and I think it's got to be elected local planning authorities, so that you get some democratic answerability.  And the problem is, at the moment, you don't.  

"The whole thing has been left to developers who, frankly, have been highly misleading in a lot of the claims they've been making.  Here, we're standing on the one bit of concrete in Ford Airfield.  That isn't the bit that's going to be developed.  Actually, around us are green fields - 87 per cent of this site is greenfield land.  Its development will irrevocably change the nature of this area, swallowing up our villages, and there are serious infrastructure concerns too.

"So what I object to is that the Government thinks that they can dictate from Whitehall, thinks they know better than our local planning authorities and local people.  And local people are simply shut out of the argument."

Mr Herbert accused developers of "dressing up" old and rejected schemes for development at Ford with the ‘eco' label.  He said: "Developers, who've had these plans for years, have been able to dress up their plans as an eco-town, so effectively it's an eco-con - they hadn't even thought of ‘eco' before the Government launched this scheme - and applied directly to the Government over the heads of local authorities, so it has completely subverted the local planning process."

"What I want to know is: who is to take these decisions?  Yes, we do need more housing.  I think it would make much more sense to put that nearer Littlehampton and Bognor where the affordable housing demand is most strong and not to prejudice their own development.  But I want to know - who is Mr Hall to be telling us that we've got to have all of these houses.  Who do you represent?"

Harold Hall of the Ford Enterprise Hub, one of the promoters of the Ford eco-town, responded by saying that he was a member of the local community.

Mr Herbert countered: "You are a member of the community but everyone else in the community, the overwhelming majority of them, has spoken out against these proposals.  I have had precisely one e-mail and letter in support of this proposal and I have had thousands which are opposed.  And, at the end of the day, these decisions ought to be taken by our elected representatives.  You are not one of them."

Asked whether house-builders would be able to invest properly and get the return they needed from the development, given the current state of the economy, Mr Herbert said: "I think that's a really serious question.  Plainly, there is a downturn and house-builders are putting their plans on ice. 

"But I think it's interesting that we've been here at the market and every single person has arrived in a car.  And, frankly, if we're talking about half of the households in this community not having cars - in a settlement which, by the way, will be two or three times bigger than any other community in my constituency - then how on earth are they going to get around?  This isn't going to be an eco-town.  It will effectively, for them, be an eco-prison."

Mr Herbert was joined on the programme by Communities Against Ford Eco-town (CAFE) campaigner and Yapton resident Vicky Newman who said she was not, in principle, against the idea of eco-towns.  She added: "We have been asking for our depressed and deprived seaside towns - Littlehampton and Bognor - to have a massive regeneration programme, and for the urban extensions there for all the affordable housing, where the demand is. 

"Ford has only been pushed for the last seven years by private developers and in every instance, planning inspectors have turned down this site as being too isolated, too rural and too remote from existing infrastructure and facilities.  It's also been an insistence that the A27 bypass has to be in place or built in parallel to any housing that might go at Ford."



Notes for Editors

1. For the website of CAFE, visit http://www.nofordecotown.com/

2. 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: ecotowns@communities.gsi.gov.uk).

3. The consultation ends on 30 June 2008.