MPs urge Housing Minister to reject Ford eco-town

West Sussex MPs Nick Herbert (Arundel & South Downs) and Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis & Littlehampton) met with Housing Minister Margaret Beckett last week (28 April) to restate their opposition to an ‘eco-town’ at Ford.

The Government is still considering proposals to build at least 5,000 houses at Ford, despite overwhelming opposition from local residents, councils, businesses and MPs.

At the meeting, Mrs Beckett said that she was unable to comment in detail about the proposals for Ford in advance of a decision on the final shortlist of eco-towns, expected later this summer.

The Minister said there were "no numbers in [her] head as to what would be a politically acceptable" number of eco-towns to announce.  The criterion was whether a site met the required standard.  While Ford was a candidate, Mrs Beckett conceded that there were issues which needed to be addressed, including transport which was "particularly difficult".

Mrs Beckett rejected Mr Herbert and Mr Gibb's contention that the planned number of 11,300 houses for Arun was too high, but she confirmed that, if the eco-town at Ford were to go ahead, the 5,000 houses could be subtracted from the overall target.

There was some debate as to whether an eco-town would go ahead if it made the final list but Arun District Council nevertheless decided to allocate housing elsewhere in the District.  The Minister suggested that it might not, saying that this was subject to local decision-making.  However, the MPs queried this, since a go-ahead for an eco-town would be a green light to developers, and said that they would write to Mrs Beckett for formal clarification of the position.

Nick Herbert commented: "Even though the Minister was unable to respond in any detail, we at least had the opportunity to set out the strong case against the eco-town once again.  We are all desperately hoping that Ford will be knocked off the final list when it is published later this summer."

Mr Herbert added: "The Government don't seem to be able to answer the point that if they would allow the 5,000 houses to come off Arun's housing target anyway, there's absolutely no reason why they should dictate where this housing should go.  The decisions about where to build houses are bound to be difficult ones and they should be left to the elected local authority to take."

Nick Gibb commented: "After more than a year of uncertainty and worry for the communities and villages of Yapton, Ford and Climping about whether their beautiful environment will be concreted over by a so-called eco-town, I hope the end of the consultation process will also mark the end of this uncertainty.  

"An insane policy dreamt up by Gordon Brown for a speech, carried out by a succession of hapless ministers and promoted by property developers, it is now time to bring the matter to a close and rule out Ford as a site for an eco-town once and for all."

The meeting with Mrs Beckett took place just before the Government's public consultation on eco-towns closed on Thursday (30 April).  Mr Herbert and Mr Gibb have presented a joint submission to the Government in which they have reiterated their strong objection to an eco-town at Ford.

Ends

 

Notes for Editors

1. The meeting between Nick Herbert, Nick Gibb and Margaret Beckett took place at the Department of Communities and Local Government, Eland House, Bressenden Place, London SW1E 5DU.

2. The Government's public consultation, which closed on 30 April, focused on 11 sites for potential eco-towns: Pennbury (Leicestershire); ‘Middle Quinton' (Warwickshire); Whitehill-Bordon (Hampshire); Weston Otmoor (Oxfordshire); Ford (West Sussex); St Austell (Cornwall); Rossington (South Yorkshire); Marston Vale (Bedfordshire); Elsenham (Essex); Rushcliffe (Nottinghamshire); Rackheath (Norfolk).

3. For a copy of the joint submission from Nick Herbert and Nick Gibb to the Department of Communities and Local Government, visit http://www.nickherbert.com/media_centre.php/326/Eco-Town%20Submission.

4. For the website of Communities Against Ford Eco-Town (CAFE), visit http://www.nofordecotown.com/.

5. For the campaign blog, visit http://www.nofordecotown.blogspot.com/.

Ed Barker