One of the country’s oldest conservation societies has hit back at Government claims that its opposition to two planned eco-towns in the West Midlands is driven by a blanket refusal to countenance new housing in the countryside.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England, founded in 1926, said it had a long history of being committed to providing more affordable homes outside of cities and urban areas but did not believe eco-towns would do anything to bring new housing within the reach of low income families.
The organisation issued a rebuttal following critical comments from the Department for Communities and Local Government, accusing CPRE of “reverting to type by opposing the housing that young families and first-time buyers need”.
A DCLG spokesman added: “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 Government response followed a decision by CPRE earlier this week to withdraw support for 10 zero-carbon eco-towns, claiming it had been “led astray” by Ministerial promises about the sustainability of the new settlements.
Two of the locations under consideration are at Long Marston, near Stratford-upon-Avon in south Warwickshire, where 6,000 new homes are proposed, and Curborough, near Lichfield in Staffordshire, where 5,000 homes are planned. Describing both schemes as sub-standard, CPRE warned that far from being exemplars of sustainability as promised by the Housing Minister the towns would be dominated by “car-dependent housing estates”, putting additional traffic on narrow rural roads.
The organisation pointed to research by Warwickshire County Council predicting that the cost of housing at Long Marston would be at least £300,000 and that private developers promoting the schemes would be unable to afford to meet Government targets for low-cost dwellings. The new settlements would quickly turn into commuter towns and would undermine efforts by West Midlands councils to concentrate most new development in cities and urban areas, CPRE claimed. Yesterday, CPRE went further by describing Government claims about the green credentials of eco-towns as seriously flawed. The organisation said its concerns included:
Promises that eco-towns will be built on brownfield land ignore reality; most of the proposed eco-towns would be built on greenfield land.
The proposed eco-towns represent between three and seven per cent of the Government’s aspiration for three million new homes and will do little to bring them within reach of low income families
Free-standing eco-towns mean that people living in these homes, affordable or not, would probably have to commute long distances for work
Promises that the eco-towns will be zero-carbon are meaningless unless this takes into account transport related carbon emissions as well as carbon emissions related to the use and construction of buildings.
CPRE head of planning Marina Pacheco said attempts to secure a meeting with Caroline Flint, the Housing Minister, to discuss the eco-towns issue had not proved successful.
Ms Pacheco said: “We strongly support affordable housing in the countryside and have done considerable research on the topic.
“We support the Rural Affordable Housing Commission’s call for 7,700 affordable social rented homes to be provided in rural areas.
“Far from perpetuating myths, we are seriously engaging with the debate over new housing. We would love to speak to Caroline Flint in person about our concerns. Unfortunately, we’ve written to her requesting a meeting on more than one occasion over the past six months, but have yet to receive a response.”
Developers St Modwen and the Bird Group, promoters of the Long Marston eco-town, issued a statement last night insisting that the proposal would be of “significant benefit” to the Stratford area.
St Modwen spokesman John Dodds said the scheme would provide 6,000 carbon-neutral homes and create more than 3,000 jobs.
Mr Dodds said a consultation event, attended by 500 local people, found evidence of support for the type of affordable housing the Long Marston eco-town would provide.