Hundreds of demonstrators marched through the centre of Lichfield to protest against plans for a new eco-town.
The protesters took to the streets of the Staffordshire city on Saturday amid growing concern about proposals for an environmentally-friendly town at Curborough, on the outskirts of Lichfield.
The Government has said the eco-towns project aims to tackle the twin issues of climate change and affordable housing, with the successful proposals having to supply between 30 per cent and 50 per cent affordable homes.
A campaign against two possible eco-towns in the Midlands was launched in April following Housing Minister Caroline Flint’s announcement of 15 possible locations for the new towns. The settlements of between 5,000 and 20,000 homes will have to be zero carbon as a whole and be an “exemplar” in environmental sustainability.
Long Marston, between Evesham and Stratford-upon-Avon, has also been earmarked.
Campaigners in Lichfield argue that an eco-town will have a negative impact on the city and create a huge urban sprawl joining it to Fradley. Addressing the demonstrators from the steps of the Dr Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum, local Tory MP Michael Fabricant said: “We acknowledge the need for additional housing and for affordable housing. But 8,000 new homes are already planned for Lichfield District and 25 per cent of the larger developments will be affordable homes.
“And these homes need to be built where they are needed – Fazeley, Burntwood, and in Lichfield itself – not where Whitehall planners have stuck a pin in a map which will create a ghetto. Local government knows the area, not Downing Street.
“The so-called ‘eco-town’ will not even be ‘eco’. We don’t have the road system to support this development and it will cause additional pollution through traffic congestion.
“Nor do we have the schools nor the doctors to support such a huge town plonked on a sensitive greenfield site on the outskirts of Lichfield.”
Mr Fabricant said the protesters had sent “a clear message to Government” that the eco-town is “neither viable nor welcome here”.
Meanwhile, TV presenter Ben Fogle was among 2,000 protesters who took part in a simultaneous march against one of the Government’s proposed eco-towns at Ford, near Arundel, West Sussex. Many of them were members of local campaign group who fear the development will engulf the nearby villages of Ford, Climping and Yapton and also say that flooding, which often occurs in the area, will be made much worse by the extra houses.
Mr Fogle, who attended the march with his father, Ford resident Dr Bruce Fogle, said it was “wrong” to sacrifice arable countryside for urban development.
The 15 sites for low-carbon, environmentally friendly towns will be whittled down to 10 over the next few months, but many of the areas which have made it on to the shortlist have attracted protests over the damage they could do to existing communities or destruction of greenfield land and natural areas.
Addressing protesters, Mr Fogle said the word “eco” was being used by the Government to make people feel guilty about opposing it.
He said: “I think the idea of an eco-town should be applauded. We need to be working towards self-sustainable communities and developments. We need to create more affordable housing in this country. We need to create viable alternative energy sources.
“I am not here campaigning against any of these. I am here to march for our green fields which sadly have no voice.”