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Daily Telegraph: Fears that ‘eco-towns’ will recycle bad planning

EXTRACT: It points to bids such as Carrington, in Trafford, Greater Manchester, as the way forward. There the oil company Shell has submitted a bid to build 5,000 homes on the 400-acre disused site of a petrochemical plant.

THE ARTICLE

By Patrick Sawer
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 30/03/2008

Developers are threatening to concrete over acres of British countryside under the guise of building environmentally friendly eco-towns, it is being claimed.

Suspicions are growing that many of the 56 bids submitted by building companies to construct the Government’s 10 eco-towns are little more than old-fashioned commuter dormitory settlements with a “green spin”.

An analysis by campaigners and industry experts has found that at least 16 of the bids are in effect re-packaged proposals that had been previously turned down by local planning committees, including schemes near Nottingham, Oxford, Lichfield and Winchester.

Angry residents who say fields and woodland walks will be swallowed up by thousands of new homes, have already staged protests at sites around the country. More will follow in the coming days.

Neil Sinden, policy director at the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), said: “The attempt by some developers to dust down previously failed schemes is deeply cynical.

“We would be alarmed and concerned if any of these schemes that have been rejected in the past were included in the Government’s shortlist. To do that would bring the whole eco-town initiative into disrepute.”

The warnings come ahead of the Government announcing a shortlist of up to 18 eco-town bids, expected in the next few weeks. These will then go through the planning process and will be subjected to public consultation in order to select the final 10.

However, campaigners fear that, having already won the stamp of Government approval, the shortlisted bids will have gained an unstoppable momentum.

Joey Gardiner, housing and regeneration editor of Building magazine, said: “Developers and councils have seized on the opportunity to build on sites that have lain fallow for decades by dusting off schemes and dressing them up with low-carbon jargon and some eco-bling.”

The Sunday Telegraph has identified the locations of a series of potential eco-town bids kept secret by the Government under “commercial confidence” rules.

As details of some of the locations have emerged, local protest groups have taken to the streets.

More than 400 people, carrying coffins symbolising the death of their rural landscape, marched against the bid for a 15,000-home eco-town in the Leicestershire countryside, near Stoughton.

There have also been protests in Derbyshire, Oxfordshire, Hampshire, Warwickshire and Yorkshire. Local opposition led to the withdrawal of a proposal for a 7,000 eco-town near Nantwich, Cheshire.

There has also been opposition to nearby plans for 15,000 homes on 600 acres of farmland near Weston-on-the-Green, the childhood home of tennis star Tim Henman.

Henman’s father Anthony, who is active in the campaign against the proposals, said: “Tim was born and bred in this village. He went to the school here. He is as horrified as we are.”

The CPRE says it backs the principle of eco-towns as long as each one is environmentally sustainable.

It said: “They should not be a smokescreen for making house-building appear more palatable. For eco-towns to succeed, they must be well integrated with existing settlements and agreed with, not imposed on, local communities.”

It points to bids such as Carrington, in Trafford, Greater Manchester, as the way forward. There the oil company Shell has submitted a bid to build 5,000 homes on the 400-acre disused site of a petrochemical plant. Another is the former Northumberland pit village of Cambois.

The shadow housing minister, Grant Shapps, said: “Many of the proposals have already been rejected as standard sites, but now they are supposed to have magically transformed into green sustainable developments. Without proper transport infrastructure there will be negative effects on the environment.”

But the TCPA defended the opportunity to revive previously failed schemes. Its chief executive, Gideon Amos, said: “Some of the previously strong schemes were rejected on the technical basis that new settlements were not allowed. But planning law has changed, so there’s no reason why they can’t be considered afresh.

“They need to have more than just a green wash. They need to be places where people really want to live, with minimal impact on the environment in terms of waste, water use and public transport.”

Fearing opposition to its eco-towns is rapidly gaining momentum, the Government has tried to allay fears over the quality of bids. Caroline Flint, the housing minister, said she would approve only schemes meeting exacting environmental standards.

She said: “Successful schemes will need to show not only that they’ve fully involved the community in planning, but also that they will benefit through better transport, education or health services.

“Weak bids where the greenest element is the recycling of failed proposals won’t make it through.”
 
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?xml=/earth/2008/03/30/eatowns130.xml

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