Thank you for the opportunity to speak today to the taskforce as it considers the draft report to Executive on 21st January 2009 recommending the Council’s response to the Eco-town PPS and the Marston Vale assessment.
I speak on behalf of the Marston Moretaine Eco Town Action Group (MMETAG) established by the residents of Marston Moretaine on June 24th 2008 to oppose the proposed Marston Vale Eco-Town – sensing that I am amongst friends I shall keep my remarks as brief as possible.
Our opposition to the eco?town proposal has been well publicized and our website http://www.mmetag.com documents in detail our campaign which as of this morning had received 8625 hits reflecting the strength of feeling from those who live in the 1600+ homes in the village
On 20th September 700 local people closed the major A421 trunk road by marching part of its length to show their unambiguous opposition to these proposals.
On 5th November 2008 a petition numbering 504 names of Marston Moretaine villagers was submitted to Margaret Beckett MP Minister for Housing.
We would endorse much of the report in particular the finding that the Marston Vale does not meet the proposed location criteria for an eco-town.
However in section 2.2 of the report where it states at the request of CLG the eco-town promoters O&H Properties carried out a series of local exhibitions during September and October and that the exhibitions were well attended we should point out to date there has been no meaningful consultation with our community.
A series of road shows by the developer were unpublicized, despite requirements for them to be so. Leaflets never materialized and posters were hard to find. In Marston Moretaine posters went up at lunchtime on the day of the road show – so much for continuing community involvement and engagement as encouraged by the PPS. Most of the publicity has been from the Action Groups.
At the Marston Moretaine road show reference was made to compulsory purchase and people being bought out or built around.
There has been a consistent pattern of non engagement.
Let’s not forget that Caroline Flint’s original visit to the Forest Centre was not publicized.
The DCLG gave the Parish Council 8 days notice of road shows as part of the next stage consultation. Parish Councils typically meet monthly – the chance of the email from the DCLG reaching the Clerks in time for PCs to react and inform their residents was minimal.
This is in stark contrast to the Highways Department whose road shows were the same two days, who advertised these dates several weeks beforehand and who leaflet dropped every house in the village. Why did the DLCG attempt to sneak in and out of the local community without engaging it in meaningful consultation?
Despite sack loads of letters from concerned residents asking questions of the CLG not one response has ever been received.
What on earth were the purposes of the road shows? They seem limited to information generally about Eco-towns. It’s not the concept that is the issue -it’s the location and resultant effect on the indigenous population, economy and infrastructure.
The ecotown brand is tainted now in the minds of local people.
Key questions which arise from the PPS and the Marston Vale proposal remain unanswered.
The developer led proposal for the Marston Vale would build predominantly on greenfield agricultural land that helps to feed this country, despite there being significant brownfield land locally and regionally to address the need for affordable housing. Why would government go against its own policy of brownfield before greenfield development?
The proposal requires forced urbanisation of three thriving VILLAGE communities.
The town planner, David Lock Associates, working with the developer on the Marston Vale eco?-town proposal is the same organisation who first promoted the concept of eco-towns with the government. This must be a conflict of interest?
Many of the statistics provided by the DCLG merge the housing needs of Mid Bedfordshire with that of Bedford Borough and make no reference to 7000 empty homes in Bedfordshire with over 6,500 of these being owned by private landlords and of this number over 3,500 being empty for over 6 months.
The proposal massively exceeds the number of affordable homes needed in Mid Bedfordshire and in fact seeks to address the needs of Bedford Borough as well. Even together the provision would be in excess of known need and would therefore simply become a magnet for people to relocate here who currently have no thought to do so.
Is this therefore the real agenda – an attractive new town for commuters within easy reach of London? Our website reveals videos of what the developer really believes. It is obvious that the developer are just using the eco-town ‘tag’ as a method of building a large number of houses on one site and making a huge amount of money in the process. The fact that 90% is to be built on green-field land is of no worry or consequence to them. The developer talks about the easy access the eco-town would have to the M1 – a contradiction in terms surely? We thought the whole idea was that no one need ever leave the ecotown. All employment and leisure will be contained within this new paradise! We – who O&H refer to as pioneers and champions will all walk or cycle everywhere! Certainly they do not see thousands of additional car commuters heading on that wonderful new road to the M1 – hardly eco – but clearly the reality.
They will be no more eco than any other development will have to be in the future and people will still want, and need, to commute to other places.Why is the DCLG contemplating plans drawing yet more people into the over-crowded South East of England to place more pressure on unsustainable infra-structure?
Work at the Wixams has been mothballed for some weeks on account of the economic downturn. Is any account taken of the fact property prices are falling and perhaps now more affordable? When they announced recently an additional 1,000 homes for the Wixams site was any attempt to have the Eco-Town criteria of 30-50% social / affordable housing applied?
Most people accept that there is a need for more affordable housing. To date our Action Group has not met anyone locally who sees the Eco-Town as an answer to their need for an affordable home.
The statistics lump the housing needs of Bedford and Mid Bedfordshire together. No attempt is made to challenge what the specific housing needs are for Bedford and why this could not be addressed within the borough boundaries of Bedford and presumably on the available brownfield sites. This would provide homes where the housing need is rather than supporting a proposal that will build on land that helps feed the country and predominantly in Mid Bedfordshire.
Why is the DCLG not simply insisting on increased proportion of affordable housing within existing plans throughout the East of England?
The 15,000 new homes proposed for the Eco-Town would clearly provide more homes than required for in existing targets but argues for these targets being exceeded on account of future housing need. Marston Vale has already been earmarked for thousands of homes. The Eco Town is on TOP of the already proposed development. What maximum cap would ever be placed on the number of additional homes or is the figure infinity?
There is no guarantee that local people will be able to get a home and relies on the hope that if the supply of housing is increased the competition for homes will decrease. What would the future housing supply need to be to provide this guarantee and why has the housing development to date not resolved the issue? Why should it do so in the future? The proposed Eco-Town – in effect a new town – will simply act as a magnet to commuters. Exactly what is meant by an affordable home? One affordable for commuters?
Are there guarantees that local people – homeless or in need of social / affordable housing – would receive priority in the Eco-Town housing allocation? The housing market, where prices that are in freefall could have a long way further to fall. That seems very unlikely. Prices have fallen 20% from the peak in the autumn of 2007. Add in inflation at about 6% over that period and you have a real terms correction of a quarter. Interest rates are now very low. But so are mortgage approvals – at a record low in fact. First-time buyers can’t get loans and don’t want them anyway because house prices are falling. The issue is not housing supply but access to housing finance. A year ago it was forecast that house prices would fall by a third in nominal terms in this downturn. That would mean roughly another 15% from where we are now. That is now looking conservative – especially as they were so over-valued at the beginning of the fall and because house prices tend to overshoot on the way down as well as on the way up.
That is, of course, good news for all those who have been unable to get a foot on the property over the last decade or more.
The PPS 4.11 calls for an economic strategy demonstrating how access to work will be achieved and O&H in august 2008 referred to potential synergies with the nearby Millbrook testing centre and Cranfield – Wixams is stalled, Nirah is uncertain, Millbrook is for sale by GM, Cranfield has shown no interest in the eco town and I cant see Centerparcs offering high tech jobs. Finally, we’ll all be using the Bedford to Bletchley line – It is not electrified and if all the much talked about development of it occurred it would prioritise fast trains to Oxford and freight. No space for a little old ‘eco’ stopping service. Indeed the East West Rail consortium has disassociated itself from any link with the Eco town.
To sum up –
- The proposal is for a new town 3 x the combined size of the nearest existing towns, Flitwick and Ampthill, wiping out three distinct communities – enforced urban living.
- 90% working agricultural greenfield land despite a government directive for house building focused on brownfield sites? CPRE say that there are brownfields sites enough for 1 million homes.
- O&H have failed to show that over a year how they will achieve zero or below carbon emissions as they are required by the PPS to do.
- ‘Eco’ measures will come into effect for all property from 2016 and these are significantly more stringent than those for the so called eco-towns? Code 6 as opposed to 3 or 4 for the Eco Towns.
- There is little ‘eco’ about the development. It appears more likely that developers have sat on land for a few years and at the first opportunity to develop have simply added ‘Eco’ on the front of it. They are not thinking ‘Eco’ they are thinking profit. Indeed in the submission to the East of England regional assembly from David Locke, October 22nd 2008 the Marston Vale is cited as having the potential for a) an eco town, b) a small new settlement of 20000 dwellings, c) a larger settlement of 20000+ Is this a way to avoid planning permission? Developers have applied and been turned down previously for large scale developments at Thrupp End and on what is now the Millennium Country Park.
- The eco town would destroy the natural habitat of wildlife, plants and aquatic life in the lakes.
- There appear to be no guarantees that the developers will actual include the expensive energy saving options in their builds particularly in the current market.
- If the developer went bust who would pick up the bill? Who will pay to improve the local infrastructure for example the rail links Bedford to Bletchley and Bedford to London lines, additional schools, shops, leisure activities – swimming pools, outdoor space, gyms, sporting activities, children’s nurseries, etc, etc and who will meet the ongoing costs ?
- The ‘Eco’ town will ruin village life for those who chose to move to villages and hamlets in the Marston Vale linking all the villages together up to Milton Keynes creating one urban sprawl through to Bedford. Marston Moretaine is surrounded by landfill, A421 widening, the incinerator project, Norah project, Centre Parcs. We have taken our fair share of “projects”. It is not fair to dump on us an extra 15,500 houses.
Clearly there is scope for an intelligent conversation about the nature of how the Marston Vale evolves – how we would want it to look in 2050. We do not see a despoiled landscape – rather an opportunity for a developmental sabbatical allowing for greenspace, and protection of distinct communities enjoying clean air which the closure of the Brick works, the landfill sites now provide the opportunity for. Key is that development must be approved by our local elected representatives rather than Whitehall diktat.
Thank you for listening and we record our thanks to Trevor Saunders who to date is the only planner to have shown any empathy for the concerns of local people.