Local politicians have unanimously rejected Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s plans for a new 6,000-home town to be built by a sleepy Warwickshire village.
Councillors at Stratford District Council voted unanimously against the Government’s ’eco-town’ project, planned for a disused Ministry of Defence site by the village of Long Marston, saying it would be unsustainable and would ruin the surroundings of the attractive rural area.
As hundreds of anti-eco-town protesters gathered outside the council house, and many more watched on a video webcast set up specially for the event, the council unanimously approved a statement casting doubt on the feasibility of the study, and telling the Government to turn elsewhere.
After the meeting, Councillor Izzi Secombe, of Stratford District Council, said: "To have the political alignment with the people is fantastic.
"If the Government wants to, it has all the strength on their side to force this, but they have made a lot of noise about being a listening Government, a Government that pays attention to local issues and it would be incredibly unwise of them to do that, especially given their position in the polls."
Coun Secombe, who also represents Stratford in Warwickshire County Council, put forward the motion the council adopted.
The Government says the eco-towns, 10 of which are planned for a shortlist of 15 sites across England, are vital to providing affordable housing for people struggling to get accommodation.
But critics say the rural Long Marston site would not have the infrastructure to support such a huge site – the equivalent of building nearby Stratford-upon-Avon over again.
They also say there is no real demand for affordable housing in the area, meaning the population of the new town would have to be brought in from elsewhere in the country.
And they have accused the Government of political opportunism, pointing out that the majority of the potential sites are located in solidly Conservative-voting areas.
The Long Marston site lies on the border of Warwickshire and Worcestershire. Wychavon District Council, which also takes in part of the site, had previously rejected the Government’s plans.
Locals have been vociferous in their opposition to the plans ever since they were announced. They set up the Better Accessible Responsible Development (BARD) campaign to take on the Government.
In recent months the campaign has received support from actors including John Nettles and Dame Judi Dench.
And one local businessman, who wanted to stay anonymous, donated £100,000 to the BARD campaign, which the group used to take on a top property judge to mount a legal challenge. About 500 protesters gathered yesterday outside Elizabeth House in Stratford as the council meeting was being held, carrying placards, banners and posters with messages like "Just Vote No" and "Say No to the Eco".
Protester, John Newark, aged 54, said: "This is Shakespeare’s Stratford, surrounded by some of the most beautiful landscape in the world.
"This new town will turn Stratford into a car park and ruin the beautiful countryside.
"We don’t want it, it’s time to start listening and learning Mr Brown."
The Government is waiting for consultations from planners at the 15 shortlisted sites, which also includes a disused airfield at Fradley, near Lichfield, Staffordshire.
The consultations are due to be in by June 30, with the Government making a final decision three months after that.
Coun Les Topham, the leader of Stratford District Council, said: "This is only the first stage for the council in this process. The district council has made its intentions clear not to support the proposed development and the district council is very unhappy to have developments like these imposed on us from Government."
Resident Clive Moy, who lives in Long Marston, added: "We have won a battle but we haven’t won a war, and the war goes on. Convincing the local authority when there’s such huge local opposition to it is a different matter to changing the mind of Her Majesty’s Government."