Thursday, 23 July 2009

Eco Town is not over.

It will be two weeks ago tomorrow that I was at Westminster to hear the announcement that Pennbury was not going to be included on the Government's eco-town shortlist.

Soon afterwards I was with protesters who were celebrating outside number 10 Downing Street, having completed one of the largest and most organised opposition campaigns I have ever seen, and I suspect ever seen in Leicestershire.

But their work is still not over. Having spoken to Kevin Feltham at a county council meeting this week, they, Cascet, are still desperate to undermine the Co-op and their proposals to build close to Leicester.

There's just one thing I cannot get over, and that has been the attitude of the city council in this. The tram I can understand was attractive, but the rest? After all that regeneration work they have done?

Eco-towns are a Labour policy, yes, some councillors are Co-op Labour members, but even the Labour Government did not think that much of the proposal, even from day one. The highest grade it ever got was a b/c I think. Keith Vaz and particularly Sir Peter Soulsby have been completely against it, and made that clear.

Now I was told very early on by a very senior councillor, who wouldn't make it up, that members of the city council cabinet were told by the party they had to support it. But I was always surprised at the extent they did. I remember on one occasion, Patrick Kitterick had a real go at Sir Peter Soulsby in the paper, called him something like a "maverick MP" for opposing it.

This has been the third time that the Co-op has tried to develop their farm land, and I suspect that it will not be the last time, in fact, it probably won't ever stop until they can get the result they want. Clearly they have decided that farming is not going to make enough money, or they need to raise some, or both, and housing is what they will try to do. The green plans are admirable, but in my humble opinion, almost impossible to deliver. Cynical I know, but money is the driving force and I just can't understand how they can make the money they want if they reach these standards.

I suspect that they will now try to apply for a smaller scale development, as a sustainable urban extension, using all the research and work they have done in the build up to their failed eco-town bid. No surprise there probably. And if they can sort a tram, then the city will probably back them again.

Clearly the Government's decision was a big blow to the Co-op, but it is clearly not over.


  1. More great eco-town coverage, Martin. And good to see you back online...

  2. To be strictly accurate - but why spoil a good story? The Co-op have tried four times since they bought the Stoughton Estate in 1919. First time was in 1939 - not a good year to do something when war was declared in September - withdrawn. Second time was in the 1980s with their aborted Stretton Magna bid for about 2,500 homes, plus two championship golf courses - county council strategic plan scotched that one. Third time was in 2007 with another aborted Sustainable Urban Extension bid for 2,500 houses through the East Midlands Region - only withdrawn because of the bigger prize of 15,000 Pennbury eco-town !! Now lastly, the eco-town is clearly dead and buried, but the Co-op are trying to recover some of their estimated £5m costs to date, by working with local authorities to try for some of the £5m on offer by the Govt. to help next 6 projects get under way. It all depends on the strings attached to the Govt. offer - GOEM expected to clarify soon, and whether local politicians have the stomach for another campaign! I certainly have !!

  3. Thanks for the background Kevin. I think that we can all look forward to a very interesting few months.