Minister "still not listening" to eco-town concerns
Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has expressed concern that the Government is “still not listening” to the concerns of local residents, councils and MPs about the proposal to build an ‘eco-town’ of at least 5,000 houses at Ford.
He was commenting after the Housing Minister, Caroline Flint, came to Yapton last week (Wednesday 30 July) to meet those concerned with the proposed eco-town.
In a two-hour meeting at Yapton and Ford Village Hall the Minister received presentations and verbal statements from:
Arun District Council Leader Gill Brown and Chief Executive Ian Sumnall;
- West Sussex County Council's new Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning and Transport Derek Whittington;
- Chairman of the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) James Brathwaite;
- MPs Nick Herbert (Arundel & South Downs) and Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis & Littlehampton);
- representatives of local parish and town councils;
- campaigners from Communities Against Ford Eco-town (CAFE), and
- promoters from the Ford Airfield Vision Group.
Councillor Brown and Ian Sumnall acknowledged the need for more housing but strongly opposed the proposed eco-town at Ford. They described Arun District Council's plans to ‘fast-track' the Local Development Framework (LDF) process and deliver thousands of new homes in the district.
Cllr Whittington described the lack of transport infrastructure available in the area, which is already leading to severe congestion on the roads. He was scathing about the Ford Airfield Vision Group's concept of ‘trip internalisation', saying that the eco-town would become a "ghetto".
James Brathwaite declared SEEDA's support for the concept of eco-towns, but said he was not currently supporting the proposals for Ford, citing the lack of a new bypass for the A27 at Arundel as a key concern. He said it was "very difficult" to conceive of a new town without the bypass.
Nick Gibb MP said the development at Ford would be a "catastrophe" for the area and put thousands of jobs in the tourism industry at risk. He said the idea that 50 per cent of residents in an eco-town would not use cars was "cloud cuckoo land" for a rural county like West Sussex.
Nick Herbert MP stressed that the site was primarily ‘greenfield' and that the rural nature of the whole area would be "irrevocably harmed" by the development. He highlighted the need for a new Arundel bypass, saying that there would be serious environmental damage if even more traffic was diverted through Arundel and villages along the South Downs.
Mr Herbert also pressed the Minister on the question of whether 5,000 houses at Ford would be in addition to, or part of, the recently announced housing numbers for Arun District Council. The Minister said that the eco-town housing could be "banked" against the Council's allocation, clearly indicating - for the first time - that the 5,000 houses could be part of the 11,300 allocated for Arun over the next two decades, not additional housing.
Representatives of CAFE, Ford Parish Council, Yapton Parish Council, Climping Parish Council, Walberton Parish Council and Arundel Town Council raised a number of concerns, including the lack of infrastructure, the threat of climate change and ‘saline intrusion', damage to the rural setting and environment of the area, and the threat to tourism.
CAFE Co-Chairman and Yapton resident Terry Knott said he was not opposed to eco-towns in principle, but argued that Ford was the "wrong place". He reminded the Minister that 10,000 people had signed CAFE's petition against the eco-town - that there was no local support for the development.
After the meeting, Nick Herbert commented: "I was grateful to Caroline Flint for coming to West Sussex, but was disappointed that she declined our offer to visit the site. She claimed to have stopped off on her way, but I think local people felt short-changed in that we could not show her the area. We all wanted to get across to her that this is primarily a greenfield site so that she could see the potential impact on our countryside and villages.
"We got the usual threadbare arguments from the developers, but we did extract one interesting answer from the Minister - that the eco-town housing numbers would come off the 11,300 that Arun have been told to build by 2026. That being the case, it's clearly a nonsense for the Government to dictate where these houses should go: the democratically elected local authority should decide."
Mr Herbert added: "I'm afraid that my constant impression throughout the meeting was that the Minister wasn't really listening. I just hope that I'm wrong and that the strong points made by local people were in fact being taken on board."
Notes for Editors
1. For the website of CAFE, visit http://www.nofordecotown.com/