Villagers fight plans for huge 'eco towns'

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The Independent Online

Grand plans to build a host of eco-friendly, carbon neutral towns hit another snag yesterday as hundreds of locals turned out in Warwickshire to protest against a development in their area.

Dozens of proposed sites have been put forward across the country for what the Government hopes will be a new generation of environmentally friendly developments, and ministers want building to start on 10 projects by 2020. But protesters nationwide say the schemes will put too much pressure on local services.

Yesterday it was the turn of 300 people living near a proposed development of former Ministry of Defence land at Long Marston, near Stratford, to air their grievance in a march.

"It would be devastating for the villages of south Warwickshire. It would be putting a new town smack bang in the middle of nowhere where there's no infrastructure at all," said the group's spokesman, Myles Pollock, who lives in the nearby village of Clifford Chambers. "We all need houses. In this district we have already built the number of houses required by the Government by 2011. You can't say we are not against building houses. It's just a matter of where."

Developers want to construct 6,000 homes on the site, exploiting what officials describe as "the potential to create a complete new settlement to achieve zero carbon development and more sustainable living using the best new design and architecture". Villagers fear this will lead to congestion in the area and say tens of millions of pounds would be needed for new roads, schools and doctors' surgeries to make the scheme viable.

Izzi Seccombe, a Warwickshire county councillor, said: "Eco may be eco within its community, but they all have to travel outside, and there is a very large rural area they will have to travel through to get to any employment or major leisure centres or towns. This area is a thread of very many rural villages. We have a lot of cohesion within those communities. Planning 6,000-plus houses on a piece of paper does not build community cohesion in an instant like that."

This is the latest in a string of protests. Opposition has been voiced in places such as Grovewood in Derbyshire and Stoughton in Leicestershire.

The Government has set out a range of criteria for the towns, which will have up to 20,000 new homes. They should be carbon-neutral, using the latest environmental design and technology to create more sustainable homes. They should set a standard in at least one area of environment technology, and provide affordable housing within 30 to 50 per cent of the site. The new towns should have "a separate and distinct identity" but good links to surrounding towns and cities in terms of jobs, transport and services, as well as a range of facilities including a secondary school, shopping, offices and leisure centres.

Responding to Conservative criticism of the plans, Harriet Harman, Leader of the Commons, told MPs: "We believe that it is a priority that we have more affordable housing. There are too many people who can't afford to rent the housing they need, can't afford to buy the home they aspire too. We are going to back people's aspirations that they can have the housing they need, and it would be very disappointing if the official Opposition try and stand in the way of people's aspirations for decent housing."

John Deegan, from one of the developers involved in the Long Marston plans, said: "The proposal is for a completely new settlement involving 6,000 new houses, new secondary and primary schools, lots of new employment. There will also be investment of well over £100m in infrastructure to support the town and to relieve Stratford."