MPs raise concerns about Ford eco-town in Commons
Nick Herbert raised concerns about the proposals for an eco-town at Ford in the Commons debate this afternoon (4 March).
The Arundel & South Downs MP joined forces with Bognor Regis and Littlehampton MP Nick Gibb to secure a thirty minute debate in Westminster Hall.
Their move followed repeated refusal by Ministers at the Department for Communities and Local Government to meet with the MPs.
Mr Herbert started his speech by saying that he recognised the need for more affordable housing in the area. He said: "The inability of young people, in particular, to get their feet on the housing ladder is a serious concern, not least in the south-east."
But he added: "the eco-town, which would add to the housing numbers that have already been announced through the regional assembly, would be located on a site that Arun District Council, in its consideration of the housing framework, has already rejected."
"The real concern about the eco-town proposal is its serious subversion of the normal planning process. There is an established planning framework for making such major decisions about housing. It is evidence-based, it includes a large number of stakeholders and the public, and it is subject to independent scrutiny.
"The eco-towns idea sits outside the system entirely, and it is misleading to say that it will be processed through the planning system. Effectively, the Government want to make the decision first and then consult the public."
Mr Herbert pointed to the Government's suggestion that it may be prepared to use the New Towns Act to force the proposals through if it does not get its own way. He said: "Effectively, the Government are saying that whatever the decision of local authorities or the established consultation procedures, they will be able to drop those towns, irrespective of concerns, on to the local community."
The MP highlighted the "serious infrastructure deficit" of roads, schools and hospitals. He said: "there appears to be a disconnection between, on the one hand, proposals for a very substantial increase in housing numbers and, on the other, a failure to upgrade infrastructure."
On roads, he discussed the long-awaited new bypass for the A27 at Arundel which will not be constructed until 2016 at the earliest.
Mr Herbert also spoke about the impact of an eco-town at Ford on the regeneration of coastal communities. He said: "The proposal is absolutely not the way to achieve that regeneration - indeed, it might threaten it.
"There is significant and, perhaps to some, surprising deprivation along the south coast, which has been partly caused by the lack of infrastructure. The eco-town proposal would do nothing to address the issue; indeed, it would be to the detriment of existing regeneration plans."
Concluding his speech, Mr Herbert spoke of the "strong opposition" to the scheme from local councils, including Arun District Council, Arundel Town Council and the parish councils of Ford and Yapton.
Replying to the debate, Minister Iain Wright said: "I stress that only the best proposals will make it through the process. We will be publishing the shortlisted proposals for eco-towns for consultation shortly - indeed, almost imminently.
"We can no longer duck the need for more affordable housing, because if we do, we will let down future generations of families and young people throughout the country."
The Minister indicated that the Government will "conduct a full and comprehensive public consultation with communities, local authorities and stakeholders."
He said that the consultation would include "full public involvement."
Ford village currently lies within the Arundel & South Downs constituency.
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 this month on a shortlist of ten options.
Notes for Editors
1. For a full transcript of the Westminster Hall debate, visit http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmhansrd/cm080304/halltext/80304h0008.htm#08030460000293