Minister agrees to meet with MPs to discuss eco-town proposal
West Sussex MPs Nick Herbert (Arundel & South Downs) and Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis & Littlehampton) will meet with Housing Minister Margaret Beckett to discuss the Government’s proposal to build an ‘eco-town’ at Ford.
Mrs Beckett's pledge to meet with the MPs came during a Commons debate on Wednesday last week (18 March) called by Mr Herbert.
During the debate, Mr Herbert said that an eco-town of 5,000 houses would dwarf any of the existing settlements in his rural constituency and expressed concern about its impact on the countryside. He said that it would be built on a greenfield site, destroying an area of high-grade agricultural land and creating an urban sprawl that would join up the villages of Ford, Yapton and Climping.
Mr Herbert highlighted a promise made by the promoters early last year to spend £200 million on the local infrastructure, but said there was already an infrastructure deficit in the area and that 5,000 new houses would present a "huge challenge" to the already-congested local road network.
Mr Herbert drew attention to the conflict between the Government's advisers, the Eco-Town Challenge Panel, who said that a new bypass for the A27 at Arundel should be dropped because it would not be compatible with a "green" development, and the promoters who agreed that a bypass was essential and promised a financial contribution towards the cost. The promoters now say that an eco-town "is in no way dependent upon the bypass being in place".
Mr Herbert questioned the proposal from developers that a waste facility would be provided for the eco-town. He said it was out of kilter with measures already taken by the County Council and would rely on importing enormous quantities of waste from other counties, posing "a significant challenge to the concept of an environmentally friendly development".
Going on to examine the issues around local democracy, Mr Herbert said that it should be the local authority who decides where new houses are located, not the Government, and asked the Minister to confirm whether 5,000 houses at Ford would be additional to the housing targets set by the Government.
In his concluding remarks, Mr Herbert requested a meeting with the Minister and added: "I hope that she (Mrs Beckett) will understand that the local concern about the issue is very great indeed. I fear that a significant part of my constituency is about to be irrevocably transformed, and I cannot overestimate to the right honourable Lady the seriousness of the issue or how it is regarded locally."
Contributing to the debate, Mr Gibb expressed doubt over the viability of the scheme, saying: "Clearly some people will make money by turning agricultural land worth £4,000 an acre into building land worth £1 million an acre. As my honourable Friend said, 87 per cent of the land is pristine, high-quality agricultural land.
"Even with that cash, however, we do not believe that it will be possible to deliver the three new schools, the social housing, the water recycling, the energy system, the new roads, the new bypass or the bunding for the river to protect against flooding that appear to have been promised at one time or another in this process."
Mr Gibb also pointed out that in Arun, 1,350 houses are waiting to be built, of which 40 per cent will be social housing. He said that these new homes will make "a significant contribution to people in the A, B and C categories on the Arun district housing waiting list".
Replying to the debate, Housing Minister Margaret Beckett agreed to meet with Mr Herbert and Mr Gibb to discuss the eco-town proposal for Ford. She also confirmed that 5,000 houses at Ford could be subtracted from the overall housing target of 11,300 for Arun District over the next 20 years.
But the Minister did not answer Mr Herbert's key question about the Arundel Bypass, and she said that the eco-towns programme was "an exciting opportunity" with "tremendous potential".
Mrs Beckett also said that the Government's intention was "that the first eco-towns will be taken from drawing board to development over the next couple of years, with more to follow and up to 10 under development by 2020" - implying that only a few eco-town proposals might receive early approval.
The BARD campaign, fighting plans for an eco-town at Long Marston in Warwickshire, announced last week (Wednesday 18 March) that it has sought permission to appeal against last month's High Court decision denying them a judicial review into the Government's policy on eco-towns. If leave for appeal were granted, it would be likely to delay for several further weeks the Government's announcement on a final shortlist, which had been widely anticipated for June.
Notes for Editors
1. For a full transcript of the thirty minute Adjournment Debate in the House of Commons, visit http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm200809/cmhansrd/cm090318/debtext/90318-0022.htm#09031897000002.
2. For a copy of the High Court decision on BARD's application for a judicial review, visit http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2009/308.html.