Model village to spring up on pit site

Geoffrey Lean reports on John Prescott's vision of an eco-friendly Britain
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The Independent Online
THIS, if John Prescott has his way, is the future face of one of Britain's moribund mining villages. For the Deputy Prime Minister wants to turn such a potent symbol of industrial decay into an ecological showcase.

He is looking for a community which has lost its pit to become one of of "four or five" new, environmentally-friendly developments based on the Millennium Village, which is to be built next to the Dome in Greenwich. Details of this were unveiled last week and Mr Prescott hopes to announce the names of the new sites early this spring.

In an exclusive article in the Independent on Sunday today, Mr Prescott outlines his plans as part of a package of measures - to be unveiled in Parliament tomorrow - designed to switch new housebuilding from the countryside to existing towns and cities.

Local authorities are to be given more power to decide how many houses will be built in their areas. It is to end the practice of Whitehall imposing development on them.

As a first step, Mr Prescott yesterday allowed Dorset County Council to build 1,000 fewer houses by 2011 than under government plans. The decision - which he describes as "an indication of the movement of my mind" - contrasts sharply with his refusal in December to let West Sussex build 6,550 fewer homes, which sparked a furore.

The new Millennium villages, says Mr Prescott, are intended "to point the way for urban regeneration". He adds that he wants to "herald a new era in community development - bringing the best of village life into the urban environment". He has told councils that they can use money from the past sale of council houses to build them.

The pit village would give a new twist to "how green was my valley". Houses with solar panels would replace the pit shafts, trees would grow over slagheaps and bicycles take over from pit ponies. It would contain some 4,000 homes in mixed public and private housing, workplaces, mini supermarkets and small-scale schooling and healthcare - and nowhere would be far from public transport.

Ironically, for a community built on coal, there will be great emphasis on saving energy; the original Millennium Village is designed to burn 80 per cent less than a normal development and its inhabitants are expected to use their cars half as much.

All the new villages will be on "brown-field" land and Mr Prescott hopes that one will be near the centre of a provincial city. Hull, which he represents, has already drawn up plans for one "in a beautiful waterfront area".

Meanwhile, he is to lay down that most houses should be built in existing towns and cities and will announce a "more flexible" approach to planning. Groups of councils in the country's eight regions will be able to draw up their own plans for how many new houses they aim to accommodate instead of having numbers imposed on them. Ministers will only intervene if the plans are greatly out of line with what they believe to be needed.

Mr Prescott has written to Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, asking him to impose VAT on new housing and a levy on green-field development.

Tony Burton, assistant director of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, said yesterday he did not believe that Mr Prescott's plans amounted to "a major break with the past" or would "deliver a new urban renaissance".

He pointed out that the Conservative government had allowed Buckinghamshire to cut the number of planned new houses by more than Mr Prescott was permitting in Dorset - and junior Environment minister Nick Raynsford had dismissed this reduction as "marginal".

How green is my party, Section 2, page 5