MPs renew call for Government to drop eco-town proposal

Local MPs have renewed their call for the Government to withdraw Ford from the shortlist of proposed eco-towns, saying that it is not a viable option.

Nick Herbert (Arundel & South Downs) and Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis & Littlehampton) have sent a joint letter to Arun District Council who later this month will consider their formal response to the Government's latest round of public consultation on the controversial eco-towns programme.

The Council has decided to reconvene the Select Committee which examined the eco-town proposals for Ford last year.  The Committee will meet in public on 16 January and 5 February, before making recommendations to the Council on 18 February.

The move follows publication in November of the long-awaited draft Planning Policy Statement (PPS) for the eco-towns programme and Sustainability Appraisals for each of the 12 sites being considered by the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

In their letter, the MPs highlight a number of key concerns about the proposals for Ford, including:

  • Risk of flooding and contamination of groundwater;
  • 87 per cent greenfield site, with high-grade arable farmland;
  • Destruction of local identity and character;
  • Lack of infrastructure, with inadequate roads, hospital services, schools and water supplies, with "totally unrealistic" targets for limiting car use to 25 per cent of journeys in the new town;
  • Ill-considered waste management proposals;
  • Unrealistic claims for generating thousands of high-skilled jobs;
  • Lack of local democracy and accountability, with decisions taken out of the hands of elected local councils, and;
  • Near unanimous public opposition to the eco-town proposal.

In their consideration of transport issues, Mr Herbert and Mr Gibb described a "remarkable volte-face" from the eco-town promoters over the need for a new bypass on the A27 at Arundel to relieve congestion.

The promoters have long acknowledged that a new bypass would be a prerequisite for development at Ford and indicated their willingness to contribute towards the cost of providing it.  However, in their final submission to the Government in August 2008, the promoters said that an eco-town ‘is in no way dependent upon the bypass being in place'.

In its Sustainability Appraisal for Ford, the Government acknowledged a number of "key weaknesses" of the site.  Despite this, Ford has been given a ‘B' rating, the Government concluding that it "might be a suitable location [for an eco-town], subject to meeting specific planning and design objectives".

On the Planning Policy Statement (PPS), Mr Herbert and Mr Gibb argued that it should not be site-specific, warning that it could enable the Government to force through its eco-town proposals in the face of opposition from local communities.

The MPs said: "It cannot be right that decisions about where new housing will go are made by Ministers and civil servants in Whitehall and not by our locally-elected councils.  It subverts the normal planning system and undermines local democracy."

MPs and campaigners are urging local residents to make their views known to the Government, both on the draft PPS and the suitability of Ford for an eco-town, before the deadline on 6 March.

Ends

 

Notes for Editors

1. For further details on Arun District Council's Ford Eco-Town Select Committee, visit http://www.arun.gov.uk/cgi-bin/buildpage.pl?mysql=4849.

2. For copies of the draft Planning Policy Statement and Sustainability Appraisal, published on 4 November 2008, visit http://www.communities.gov.uk/housing/housingsupply/ecotowns/publicationsabouteco-towns/.

3. The Government's second round of consultation on eco-towns ends on 6 March 2009 (extended from 19 February). To submit comments, visit http://ecotownsyoursay.direct.gov.uk/.

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