In Britain, plan for carbon-neutral ‘ecotowns’ draws rural ire
The innovative proposal for ultramodern communities with solar power and subterranean recycling chutes is designed to address an acute housing shortage.
You’re the prime minister of a small, rich nation with a growing population, pressing space constraints, a chronic housing shortage, and a perennial need to be green. What do you do?
Gordon Brown thinks he has the answer. In one of his boldest policies since he assumed power last year, the British premier is planning to build a cluster of completely new ultramodern “ecotowns” on sites dotted around the English countryside.
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Windmills and solar power, biomass heating facilities, car-free streets, and subterranean recycling chutes will result in net carbon dioxide emissions of zero or less.
But the innovative plan is pitting urbanites’ vision of green utopia against the ire of rural England, whose residents are loath to let their pristine environs be despoiled.
“This is completely the wrong site,” says Pete Seaward of Weston, a village in Oxfordshire shortlisted as an ecotown. He holds up a scenic picture of a local lake. “If they’re saying that it is ‘eco’ to build on and fill in a lake like that, they are dreaming.”
Ron Field, chairman of the parish council at Ford, another site on the eco-village shortlist, adds that there is huge local concern that this is just another ruse to allow developers to make money.
“We don’t want it because it’s plunked in the middle of a small hamlet in between two coastal towns which they spent millions and millions of pounds trying to regenerate,” he says.
“They’re building it on 600 acres of green field land which is used for growing food crops to feed the people that live in our area, and it’s all done as far as we can see for money.”
Aimed at meeting housing shortage
But such thinking ignores an important motivation for the project – Britain’s acute housing shortage – says Kate Henderson of the Town and Country Planning Association think tank in London, which advised the government on the ecotown strategy. In many cases, she points out, the vocal opponents are rural “haves” who do not understand the predicament of the urban “have-nots.”
“Those in the countryside who are fortunate enough to have a garden and green space for their children are the voices you hear the most,” she says, “whereas the massive majority are not able to get on the housing ladder, are living with their parents, are living in poor rented accommodations and are not able to access the housing market.”
Brown’s plan is aimed at addressing acute population and housing problems in Europe’s most densely populated country. Britain not only has a population that is growing once again; it has more and more single-occupancy households. House prices have soared in the past decade, and though the market is currently falling, prices are still well beyond the affordability of the majority of first-time buyers.
“There is a fundamental mismatch between supply and demand in the housing market and the government is committed to addressing this in the long term by building more homes,” said a government spokesman.
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