The eco-town policy is a sham - only lifestyle change will make a real difference
It’s not often that the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Local Government Association, the Royal Town Planning Institute and Jeremy Clarkson stand side by side at the barricades, but that is what the government has achieved with its eco-town proposals.
The green trap
The reason for this strange alliance is simple. The eco-town policy has been exposed as a ‘greenwash’ – it’s like claiming to be a vegetarian because you eat lettuce.
The eco-town prospectus promised small new towns of up to 20,000 homes, with high levels of affordable housing, where ‘the development as a whole would achieve zero carbon’. But this is nonsense. Even if houses are carbon neutral, their occupants will drive to work, fly, consume goods and produce waste, just like the rest of us. So the development as a whole can never be carbon neutral.
The difference is that eco-town residents will live in isolated settlements where reliance on cars will be almost total.
Take Hanley Grange, a proposed eco-town of 8,000 homes that will sit on the junction of the M11 and A11 – just south of Cambridge and a 30-minute drive to London. You don’t need to be a genius to see that it will attract London commuters and the developer’s website makes no mention of new public transport facilities.
So a store that sells produce flown in from all over the world and will attract drivers from every surrounding village will be carbon neutral? Are we really expected to believe this kind of claptrap?
But local campaigners have also discovered that Tesco is the principal developer behind the scheme. Unsurprisingly, Hanley Grange will include a huge new store that will be ‘one of the first carbon-neutral stores ever’.
So a store that sells produce flown in from all over the world and will attract drivers from every surrounding village will be carbon neutral? Are we really expected to believe this kind of claptrap? Not surprisingly, every local authority in the area opposes Hanley Grange, even though it would produce thousands of new affordable homes.
With food prices soaring and climate change forecasts worsening by the month, it seems incredible that we should contemplate the creation of artificial new settlements on prime agricultural land, especially as the government has set a target of a 60 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.
Future growth should concentrate on urban extensions of existing towns and cities and a redefinition of the greenbelt, so that we can achieve higher urban densities that will make public transport more viable. But unless we change our lifestyles we are heading for disaster.
Recent petrol increases may be painful in the short term, but they may persuade people to move closer to where they work or work closer to where they live.
Eco-towns are unlikely to change lifestyles and they are not the answer to the challenges of climate change.
Colin Wiles is chief executive of King Street Housing Society