I’ve been meaning to write something about ‘eco-towns’ for a little while now, but being a bit of a lazy sod, hadn’t quite got round to it. However, the Landscape Institute’s recent newsletter, gave me a bit of a prod - it included a request to members for input into the draft Planning Policy Statement on ‘Eco-towns’, as the LI is (for what it’s worth) a statutory consultee into the process. Hence I put together a few of my thoughts, which I posted on the Landscape Institutes forum:
For those people as lazy as me, I’ve posted my text in full:
“I think the basic idea of ‘eco-towns’ is a good one. Recent initiatives aimed at pushing sustainability and conservation of resources seem to have focussed too much on the smaller issues, such as incorporating recycled materials or native plant species into schemes, rather than the really big ones that can make a significant difference. In my opinion the biggest challenge our society faces is finding affordable homes in locations that do not necessitate excessive cost/use of energy to travel to essential facilities; be it places of work, education or healthcare. Realistically, the best way to do this is to plan new settlements around a sustainable transport infrastructure.
However, the process of choosing sites for ‘eco-towns’ has been fundamentally flawed. What should have happened is that some form of national scoping took place, determining where there was greatest need and assessing potential suitability in terms of issues such as economy, transport and yes, landscape. The reality was that developers and landowners were asked to bid for massive developments and potentially massive financial returns, based largely on their existing land holdings and interests. The result seems to be that the current eco-town sites have been chosen more on the basis of their proposer’s financial resources, than the actual suitability of the sites. From studying the proposals from the outset, this certainly seem to me be the case. The proposed ‘eco-town’ at Marston Vale, which had excellent transport links to London, Milton Keynes and Bedford, as well as connections to the growing distribution sector and a scarred landscape in need of regeneration – dropped out due to a lack of funds from the developer, despite it’s appearance as an ideal location for such a development. Whereas, the more contentious site at ‘Pennbury’ in Leicestershire, backed by the Co-op (more on that later), now appears to be one of the front runners to go ahead. Further, the debate surrounding the issue appears to have degenerated to something of a political football, with clear sides forming along party lines.
As someone who lives and works in Leicestershire, I’ve followed the proposals for the ‘Pennbury’ with interest. Whilst not likely to be directly effected by the proposed scheme, I have none the less been alarmed by what I’ve seen. The proposal is to locate the new ‘eco-town’, including 15,000 homes and associated infrastructure, on the rural east side of Leicester away from major roads or transport infrastructure. With no significant funding allocated for improving the transport situation, the result is that the majority of additional traffic will feed straight back into Leicester. Leicester itself is a small city which appears in recent years to have grown beyond the capacity of it’s existing transport network. Even from the most cursory inspection of the proposals, it is quite clear that they are wholly unsuitable from a transportation perspective, and by association as a potential site for new employment or housing. This has been verified by independent assessment.
So flawed are the proposals, that I could easily come up with a whole host of arguments against the development. However, as a landscape architect I am obviously dismayed by the impact on the areas landscape character. Leicestershire is not overly blessed with features of cultural interest, but it does have substantial areas of unspoiled countryside, which have a strong underlying character. It seems to me a pity to destroy such a significant amount of this, for the sake of such a poor development.
Finally, stepping aside from the local issues, I believe that we are in danger of embarking on the greatest development folly since the concrete high-rises and ring roads of the 1960’s. It would not only be a tragedy for the communities and areas damaged by inappropriate proposals, but I think could turn national opinion against the drive for sustainable developments itself, which is so desperately needed.”