Eco Towns - English Partnerships' Defence Site Gimmick?

Gerrard Winstanley tony at
Sat May 10 23:24:24 BST 2008

NEW TOWNS - Eco from the past

Extracted from Private Eye, No. 1205, 02May-15May08, p.27

FIFTEEN new settlements in the countryside, designed as
self-contained, state-of-the-art communities? It all sounds very
familiar. But Gordon Brown's eco-towns initiative - one of the big
ideas of his long-forgotten honeymoon - has more than just superficial
connections with the new towns movement that brought us such
architectural delights as Cumbernauld and Crawley.

The cheerleader and adviser to the government on this issue is the
Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA),the organisation founded
by Ebenezer Howard in 1899 as the Garden City Movement. Howard's ideas
were not only highly influential in development circles - the classic
1930s suburb is based on some of his principles - they also became the
bedrock of post-war government policy, given a modernist gloss as the
new towns. The Conservatives ended the whole policy in the 1980s. But
the TCPA has been lobbying the government on the need for new
settlements ever since Labour returned to power in 1997.

English Partnerships, the quango branded as "the national regeneration
agency", is another adviser on eco-towns. It has a more direct
connection with the failed grand projets of the past: half of it was
once the Commission for New Towns, the body set up in the 1960s to
deal with the settlements.

Both bodies are still staffed by energetic defenders of the new towns
concept - people who claim that the likes of Telford are successful
model communities. None of this bodes well for the long-term success
of these new settlements, but there are several other reasons the
eco-towns could be even less successful than their concrete cousins.

Housing minister Caroline Flint states that none will be built on
green belt land. Of course not - the green belts surround our cities,
preventing them from sprawling. So, to avoid transgressing this
particular policy, the eco-towns will be built beyond them, in far
more rural surroundings. As a result they will be quite a distance
from any cities, where the jobs are and to which most future
inhabitants will presumably commute by whatever means they see fit -
hardly the greenest of approaches. The government claims the
settlements will be self-sufficient, providing all the jobs, schools
and hospitals the residents need. But most of the towns will contain
around 5,000 homes - hardly enough to sustain anything like the
amenities a real community needs.

Take one new town, Middle Quinton in Warwickshire, which will consist
of 6,000 homes. The nearest town, Stratford-on-Avon, has far more
houses than this, but a large number of its inhabitants drives to
work, shop or play in the Birmingham or Coventry area to the north.
Why will Middle Quinton be any, different? It does have a spur to the
Worcester-Oxford-London railway line, but this isn't going to be much
use unless the inhabitants are commuting for four hours each day to
Paddington at vast expense.

So, lobbying aside, what is the real reason for the eco-towns project?
A quick browse through the selected sites reveals that six of the 15
are on former military bases. Gordon has been desperately trying to
sell defence sites to balance the public books since he was next door
at number 11. Unfortunately most were hard to shift as they were
constrained by planning policy and remoteness from towns and other
infrastructure. Rebranding them as groovy new "eco-towns" seems to be
the answer.

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