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The Middle Quinton Eco Town Proposal
Middle QuintonEcoTown Investigation
In April 2008, 15 proposed eco town sites were announced with 10 of the 15 sites to be built by 2020 in line with government targets. One of these sites was the 240 ha site, located on a former army base site located between Lower Quinton and Long Marston in the county of Warwickshire/Worcestershire, West Midlands. It was to be named Middle Quinton. At current the site is used as a storage site, with large hangars used as storage facilities for cars and train tracks storing disused train carriages. The nearest large town that would be supporting the eco town would be Stratford upon Avon approximately 8 miles from the site.
2. Reasons for proposal
The idea of an eco town is to be environmentally friendly towns which consume low amounts of energy and are carbon-neutral developments built from recycled materials. This is all in line with targets set by the EU for emissions from particular industries, in this case the domestic market to be reduced.
The government announced a target in 2007 to sell off government owned disused Brownfield sites to developers for development of new ‘eco towns’ with a large proportion of profits made by the developers to be given back to government. There was the intention to build 10 eco towns from doing this across the country. The government had housing objectives to meet, these were to decrease carbon emissions from the domestic industry and increase the number of houses available on the UK market. This is what the government has said: “Everyone should have the opportunity to rent or buy a decent home at a price they can afford, in a place where they want to live and work.” But more homes are needed to meet the rising demands of a population that is both increasing and ageing. The Government has set a target “to provide three million more homes in England by 2020 which will include more affordable homes to rent or buy.”
The proposed site in Warwickshire is a Brownfield site because of the existing army base there. This site is partially developed already with basic infrastructure. All this makes the site a lot less environmentally damaging when developing (going with the eco town theme), and won’t be building on a Greenfield site. The site once completed, was to be a model of a futuristic style eco town which would be used for other developments to follow suit so that an ‘eco’ culture for house building would begin. If the development was to go ahead then a large cut of the profits made by the developers (St Modwen Properties and The Bird Group) were to be returned to the government. This figure would have been in the order of tens of millions if not more.
3. The Plan
The photo below is a satellite image of the current site and on top of it are highlighted areas of the site where the proposed developments were to take place.
The developers had the plan to build over 6000 ‘carbon neutral’ homes on this 240 ha site, 2000 of these homes would be ‘affordable houses’. To support this large population, a large community infrastructure would be needed. This was to include up to four schools, health facilities and retail facilities. In total it was estimated that around 4 500 jobs would be created from these facilities in the town making it largely self supporting. As is visible on the map above, the town would have its own power, energy and recycling site with the idea that the town would be completely self sufficient producing no waste and generating their own energy from sustainable sources. Over £100million would be invested in local infrastructure.
4. Who would benefit?
The initial people to benefit will of course be the developers and the government on receiving large profits from the development sale.
The local economy would be strengthened. Businesses in Stratford and other nearby towns such as Evesham may benefit from an increased number of customers; however this is debateable by the town providing many of their own services. These businesses would also have a wider selection of potential staff when it comes to acquiring new staff. With a higher demand for jobs, people in some circumstances may be willing to work for a little less because of the increased demand for the job, this therefore making it cheaper for the business. The local council would receive bigger tax earnings from council tax which would make the area wealthier and allow for more money to be invested in to local services, thus improving them.
Local people from nearby villages will benefit from an increased number of services provided locally. This will relieve pressure from other local services, some of which are currently reaching the point of being overcrowded for example, too many people per GP at the local health centre in Bidford. There were plans to also incorporate other non basic services such as a leisure centre and retail facilities, all of which being beneficial to the local area and also attracting people to the area from further away perhaps.
Lastly, the local infrastructure would benefit from this new town being built as the government and developers together have said they will pledge £100 million in improving the local roads etc to make them more capable of supporting an increase in local population. One of the main improvements to infrastructure would be a new bypass round Stratford upon Avon which is much needed because of severe traffic problems at rush hour. At current, the council cannot realistically afford to build this addition.
5. The Objections
A large new town has not been built by the government in the U.K since the 1960s when Milton Keynes was built. This has been because of a surplus number of properties available on the market. However, now as the population has continued to surge in size, demand for housing which is affordable has gone through the roof leading the government to announce these initiatives over building new towns to keep supply up with demand and try offering some more affordable housing, making it easier for first time buyers get into the market.
There were numerous reasons presented by the protestors as to why the eco town should not go ahead; all of them reasonable. The objections are as follows…
· There may be a national need for more housing, however in the area proposed, there’s no need for additional housing.
· The idea of 90 % of people that would live in the eco town also working there was not feasible. Thus meaning that a large percentage of the working population would need to go further afield in search of jobs, this bringing with it two main disadvantages. The first being that this would increase unemployment in the area because of the lack of jobs available. Secondly, it would be defeating the idea of the eco town being ‘eco’. With no sufficient public transport, it would mean people would need to commute daily to their work place using personal transport, worsening local congestion which is already at its’ threshold and increasing carbon emissions, defeating the idea of the town being ‘eco’. Even with the new infrastructure, this still would not be enough.
· Some protesters said it would ‘devastate’ the historic town of Stratford On Avon which would be detract tourism, causing a detrimental affect on this part of the local economy. To what extent this would be true I am not sure. But as we have examined it would mean that there would be a large increase in congestion.
· Around 30% of the planned houses (2000) were to be ‘affordable housing’ which is another, more attractive name for council housing. Avoiding being stereotypical, with council housing often comes problems. The surrounding area of the site is generally wealthy with low rates of crime and high house prices. With a large influx of people, this could well change. Crime rates would be expected to increase with burglaries of houses in the surrounding area and general petty crime. This bringing down the house prices in the local area slightly and increasing insurance premiums both of which would be disadvantaging the local community. This reason alone was big enough to enrage many locals and give the NIMBY’s ammunition for protesting.
· The local area, the Cotswolds, is listed as an area of national outstanding beauty. This new town could ruin these rural villages.
· The town was to be built on a semi Brownfield site which was in the middle of the countryside. a building development on the edge of an already developed, urban area would be suitable. However, disturbing the countryside with a falsely named eco town would wreak havoc. One of the main points the protesters had was: Yes the proposal of an eco town was a good idea. This being in terms of meeting the needs of the nation and reducing pollution in the domestic sector by creating a model town for future development. But it was poorly situated in terms of creating an eyesore on an area of outstanding beauty and placing a burden on an area which already struggles on the infrastructure side and employment side. There are far better suited sites elsewhere in the country which would meet the demands of a new town.
· Although the town will bring with it, it’s own services, it will still need external services which will put on more pressure, decreasing standards.
Then there was the slightly weaker objections which together helped back the overall objection…
- A survey of the proposed site had found a rare wild British butterfly inhabited the area. The species would be very likely to be wiped out by such a development.
- There were suggestions that the land carried with it potential risks of contamination from it formerly being an army base. Therefore presenting large health risks and large costly problems to overcome when developing the area.
- The owner of the Bird group (Tony Bird) who’s in partnership with the developer is only in it because of a desire for more wealth and has no real interest in the local area.
6. How was the campaign undertaken?
As with building a new town anywhere in the country there is always going to be opposition to the plans. This site chosen was probably one of the worst sites they could have chosen when it came to objections. A strong group of protestors quickly formed a campaign group, aptly naming it BARD. BARD of course has its links to Shakespeare but in this case it stood for ‘Better Accessible Responsible Development’. The group received large amounts of funding helping run the campaign. All donated from local multi millionaire Felix Dennis, an entrepreneur living in a nearby village. Yellow T-shirts, stickers, bad
ges, posters and large banners were quickly distributed as the campaign snowballed its publicity campaign. Almost all locals were against the plans, including the local newspaper, the Stratford Herald which regularly made it their front page news story, and even the local news team, Midlands today. A number of local ‘celebrities’ joined the campaign including John Nettles and Dame Judi Dench, both adding to the publicity side of the campaign
The main protesting body, BARD organised the protests. These included a stall ran by supporters at all local events e.g. fetes in local villages, raising awareness and distributing posters, leaflets, badges, and so on. These stalls also had petitions which built up a base of over 10 000 names, these were eventually sent off to Westminster where the local MP Peter Luff presented it in front of the House of Commons. A number of demonstrations were organised, including walks along the greenway and protests at the council offices in Stratford when housing minister, Caroline Flint attended meetings. All of these protests receiving widespread coverage by the press.
The campaign against the eco town went on for nearly two years until the decision was made at the EiP. Following the successful rejection of the eco town plans, David Bliss, Chairman of the BARD Campaign said: "This is what BARD has spent almost 2 years campaigning for - official recognition of the validity of our objections to ‘Middle Quinton'. It's a victory for common sense. It also demonstrates that intelligent evidence-led local activism shouldn't simply be dismissed as nimbyism. Our volunteers care passionately about protecting the environment in which they live and I am very proud of their tireless efforts. Let's hope the Government now accepts this report as the final nail in Middle Quinton's coffin.”
The reasons supported by the EiP for the town to not go ahead are as follows:
· The town was unsustainable and therefore unable to merit an ‘eco’ prefix
· There are preferable alternatives to new settlements such as urban extensions and small-scale development across the District
· Long Marston was simply the wrong location for such a huge new development
· The Promoters' estimates of home-workers are overly optimistic; there's no guarantee on-site jobs would be taken by eco-town residents; there is woefully insufficient transport infrastructure; the town would be poorly linked to towns and cities and would experience high levels of car-dependency
· A new passenger heavy railway along the Greenway is unfeasible and the alternatively proposed guided-bus link would require public funding
· Long Marston cannot simply be described as a "Brownfield" site
Now the proposals have been put through the Examination in Public of the West Midlands Regional Spatial Strategy, it still hasn’t been put through the government properly. So there is a very small possibility that it could still go ahead, however there is a 99% certainty it won’t. As a result of this, the St Modwens developer have put through successful planning applications through the Stratford District Council, and as a result have acquired planning permission for the following:- Permission to build 500 new houses, a third of which would be ‘affordable housing’. Permission for the building of 300 holiday homes, 150 which would be rented and 150 would be sold as holiday homes, a caravan park, an outdoor activity centre and a railway restoration project working on the existing lines there at present. This was all accepted by the council, voted by a 7 to 6 narrow majority. Therefore St Modwens are almost definite most of the proposed will be carried out, unless of course by some narrow chance the government passes the application for the eco town. But with a new election on the horizon, the Conservatives have promised that they will abolish all plans of eco towns, which could also be likely. Meanwhile, The Bird Group has been left in the dark, and no development is set to take place on their side of the land.
There are 4 other eco towns in other parts of the country that were successful in their planning process, these being Rackheath, Norfolk; north-west Bicester, Oxfordshire; Whitehill Bordon, East Hants; and the China Clay Community near St Austell, Cornwall. As this is less than the government initially put forward of 10 eco towns, a second wave is being planned by the latest housing minister, John Healy. This time they are taking a different approach by giving local authorities money to carry out the projects instead of commercial developers who are financially orientated. The idea behind this being that it will be much easier to get planning applications through, as they will be looking at what’s best for the county rather than how to make the most money.
It seems that the initial plans have failed to renovate the ex army base. However, this could well be the tip of the iceberg with many more plans to come, the first one already passed for St Modwens to develop the land. This has had little publicity and has caused much anger amongst the few that do know about it because of the narrow majority vote it was passed by. So who knows, maybe one day there will be a eco town named Middle Quinton after all?