Sites for two West Midlands eco-towns proposed by the Government are poorly located and would be dominated by car-dependent housing estates, a leading countryside campaign group has claimed.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England urged the Government to “go back to the drawing board” at it withdrew its support for proposals to build the green towns at Long Marston, near Stratford-upon-Avon, and Curborough on the outskirts of Lichfield, Staffordshire.
Describing both schemes as “sub-standard”, CPRE West Midlands regional policy officer Gerald Kells urged the Government to think again.
Mr Kells said: “To begin with, CPRE supported the eco-towns initiative. Who wouldn’t object to exemplar schemes built to high environmental standards which provide the affordable homes the nation desperately needs?
“But we now believe we have been led astray. What will this programme will deliver? It appears increasingly to be about spin with very little substance.”
He warned that the Long Marston site, where 6,000 new houses are envisaged, and Curborough, where 5,000 homes are planned, would turn into “commuter towns” which would undermine efforts by West Midlands councils to concentrate more development in cities and urban areas.
Long Marston and Curborough are among 15 possible sites for eco-towns put forward by the Government. A final list of 10 locations where private developers will be invited to submit bids to build the towns will be announced later this year.
Government sources have stressed the environmentally-friendly nature of the new towns, hinting that unnecessary car journeys by residents will be frowned upon. It is likely that vehicles will have to be parked at the edge of the town, leaving car owners facing a cycle ride or walk to their homes.
But councils across the West Midlands are not convinced and have called for both Long Marston and Curborough to be dropped from the list.
Warwickshire County Council’s cabinet last week warned development at Long Marston would provide large, expensive houses for commuters, put additional traffic on narrow rural roads, and would not meet the Government’s sustainability criteria.
Warwickshire is joining forces with Worcestershire and Gloucestershire County Councils and local district councils to fight the proposal.
Lichfield District Council said it rejected Curborough several years ago as a possible site for housing and any attempt to resurrect the issue would fly in the face of local democracy.
CPRE’s concerns about the two West Midlands eco-town proposals include:
rural locations would result in the towns becoming car-dependent housing estates with residents stranded in the face of continued fuel price rises; both sites are predominantly greenfield land and include farmland of the highest quality; a worrying lack of evidence to demonstrate that schemes will offer truly sustainable models of living and working.
Mr Kells said proposals for large-scale housing development on the sites went against development policies approved by West Midlands councils.
The selection of both Long Marston and Curborough had been “arbitrary and developer-led, rather than based on soundplanning in the wider public interest,” he claimed.
Mr Kells added: “We are urging the Government to go back to the drawing board.
“Many of the schemes on the shortlist, including Curborough, are recycled, failed proposals.
“The Government insists that eco-towns must be freestanding new settlements. But by refusing to look at alternatives, such as eco-quarters and redevelopment sites already coming through the planning pipeline, it is missing a golden opportunity.”
CPRE is urging ministers to place more emphasis on small-scale sustainable development in towns and cities. The group has earmarked the £750 million redevelopment of Longbridge in south Birmingham, where 2,000 new homes are planned, as an example of the type of new-build it would be prepared to support.
Responding to the criticism, a spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said: “This is the CPRE reverting to type, opposing the housing that young families and first-time buyers need.
“It is a shame that CPRE are preferring to perpetuate myths rather than engaging in the debate about how we build the houses we need.”
The CPRE voiced its concerns as campaigners against nine of the proposals head to London today to protest against the plans.
The campaigners will include groups from Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire.