A little local trouble: Why the people from Warwickshire won't be taking their new eco-town lying down


There is an area of countryside six miles south-west of Stratford-upon-Avon that is particularly picturesque. It boasts elegant views of the Cotswolds, and fine country lanes that meander around green pastures. Stand still long enough and you can almost hear the sound of "Jerusalem". It could not be more English.

One might expect such important and idyllic parts of this great nation, a few dozen furlongs from the birthplace of Shakespeare, to be earmarked by the Government for preservation. But as part of Gordon Brown's initiative for a series of eco-towns – environmentally-friendly new settlements on underdeveloped land – the site in question, near the village of Long Marston, could be concreted over to make way for six thousand new homes. Or to give them their proper name: Middle Quinton.

Eco-towns are part of the Government's huge house-building plans, set to see three million homes constructed across Britain by 2020. Ten eco-towns will be green-lighted for development from a shortlist of 15 this autumn. Their "eco" stems from their green technologies, everything from power-generating refuse incinerators, to free bicycles for all. But locals around Stratford-upon-Avon are incensed, and are doing all they can to make sure Middle Quinton does not happen. Far from being ecological, they say, Middle Quinton would create far more damage through car pollution than it would prevent. Their struggle has spiralled formidably.

The growing local anger has taken the form of Better Accessible and Responsible Development, or Bard, the official name of the anti-Middle-Quinton campaign. Bankrolled by rich local residents including publishing multi-millionaire Felix Dennis, it has already assembled a crack corps of QCs, public relations experts, political strategists, planning consultants and MPs to make people's voice heard. They are currently mounting a legal challenge in which they hope to prove the Government's consultation period, which concluded this week, was flawed. Now, their example is being followed by similar groups protesting the need for eco-towns.

It is an evening meeting in Stratford high school's 1960s assembly hall, on the town's outskirts. About 200 plastic chairs are arranged in neat lines awaiting a crowd. A constant stream of retirement-age punters are greeted by members of Bard.

The group was founded in December, a month after Yvette Cooper, Caroline Flint's predecessor as Housing minister, made the Government's eco-town plans public. Its chairman is David Bliss, who manages the Dennis estate, two miles away from the proposed development. His wife, Hilary, looks after public relations. "We wanted to hear what people thought and it was decided that we should put a campaign together," she says. "We were aware of the plans but we were not sure how many others were. Around 11,000 people have now signed our petition."

It is clear the couple draw their support from across the political spectrum, from conservative-minded retirees to liberals who believe this is simply the wrong location. None is opposed to greener housing. But there is a suspicion the new homes' eco credentials are simply a bit of a "greenwash" – the developers' way of gaining approval for profit-driven projects that might otherwise meet with opposition.

But what has incensed members of Bard is their view that Flint has gone over their heads, firstly by failing to give them enough information about what effects Middle Quinton will have on their lives, and secondly, by not giving them enough time to make their case. "This is a very short window of opportunity," says Bard campaigner Jane Cromack, 48. "You always assume the Government is going to make the right decisions. But that is not obvious any more. They are not taking account of local issues."

Harry Teale works in tourism in central Stratford, and moved from North London's Crouch End to her current home, just outside the town, several years ago. She did this to escape the "city way of life" and says: "I made a lifestyle choice. I think if you took the petition around the local population, 95 per cent would sign it."

On stage, the evening's main attraction is preparing to speak. Conservative Party Deputy Chairman and Stratford-upon-Avon MP John Maples is pragmatic and engaging. "If you're going to have six thousand more houses that is maybe not a bad idea ... but this is just the wrong place," he says. "It is a location of outstanding natural beauty."

The MP accuses the Government of wanting to build at Long Marston for financial reasons. He says the Government stands to fill its coffers through a new development because part of the proposed site for Middle Quinton used to belong to the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The MoD land was sold to developer St Modwen in 2004 in a deal which stipulated that once the land was developed, the Government would be paid 50 per cent of what that land was worth. He says the site was originally sold to St Modwen for £11m, but after Middle Quinton arrives, could be valued at £400m. That's £200m for Chancellor Alistair Darling's piggy bank. Maples says many of the other eco-town sites are proposed for former MoD land, and if they are all developed, could net the Treasury £2bn.

The Long Marston scheme was short-listed after the site was deemed to meet a series of stringent "eco-town criteria". These included the fact it featured brownfield or partially developed land and that it already has some rail links.

Tony Bird, the local developer proposing to deliver the project with St Modwen, believes their plans will significantly improve Long Marston. He cites Poundbury – the traditionally-designed Dorset new town promoted by the Prince of Wales – as one of his inspirations and emphasises that he will build his development out of local tiles and stone. He neglects to mention another key landmark to be found close to the site. One local road sees a female-looking scarecrow wearing a "stop the eco town" T-shirt. Local wags have nicknamed it "Lady Bird" (the developer has an OBE). Bird says he still lacks a complete picture of how exactly Middle Quinton will affect factors such as local road use and pollution. "I understand people's worry about the number of people coming in," he says. "But it's not our fault. We were put on to the shortlist in April. We have now got to work on the master planning and sustainability for a town of 6,000 houses with all the leisure, schools, farmer's market, and everything else. We have got to plan the whole lot by the end of September. But we can only consult the public on things we have got the information on, and it isn't all in our hands."

Now, Bard is making concrete progress. It has instructed London law firm S J Berwin to fight Flint in the High Court. One of the firm's partners, Simon Ricketts, thinks they have a strong case and that the consultation process is unlawful. "The Government mustn't enter the consultation period with its mind made up," he says, "and it appears that it has." His colleagues have written to the High Court to kick-start the legal process. Additionally, there is rapid progress in anti-eco-town campaigns all over the country. Protesters in Rossington, South Yorkshire claim an eco-town development would destroy Green Belt and agricultural land, and thus is far from ecologically sound. And earlier this month, two thousand attended a protest rally against plans to build an eco-town at Ford in West Sussex, including the likes of Ben Fogle and Duncan Goodhew. Tim Henman's father, Anthony, is leading the charge in Oxfordshire, where locals oppose plans for up to 15,000 new houses at Weston Otmoor. The architect Richard Rogers thinks this is "one of the biggest mistakes the Government could make."

Exiting Stratford, past Tudor chocolate-box facades, one is reminded why poets flock here in search of inspiration. One such sensitive soul is Felix Dennis himself. He has taken to plying the public with stanzas crafted by his own eccentric quill, spurred on by what he sees as a threat to our nation's fabric. "This quiet realm of peace, this rural isle/ This other Eden, demi-paradise," he writes of the campaigners' mission. "Heed now the bell, long silent in its tower/ It speaks of England's wrath, late tho' the hour/ From William to Whitehall." From a Bard, we should suppose, it's the least we've come to expect.

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Perry says: 'Psychiatrists give help because they need help. You would not be working in mental health if you didn't have a curiosity about how the mind works.'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?