Micheldever Station Eco-Town – still a bad idea – and still not eco

I went to the annual general meeting of the Dever Society last night. Steve Tilbury, the Head of Operations at Winchester City Council was there and made an excellent and informative presentation. As part of it, he referenced an article by David Blackman and Joey Gardiner in Building magazine – which accurately captures the general mood locally about the Micheldever Station Eco-Town:

The list of sites put forward by developers reads like a greatest hits of planning applications gone by. The communities department refuses to publish the list, but an investigation by Building has uncovered nine, all of which bring on a sense of deja vu. Micheldever, for example, the proposed site of a 12,500-home town, was put forward to two Hampshire structure plan inquiries in the late nineties, before being rejected in 2000 …

It looks like developers and councils have leaped at the chance to build on sites that have lain fallow for decades, dusting off old schemes, tarting them up with low-carbon jargon and bolting on eco-bling. Conservation groups on the other hand, are horrified.

Elsewhere in Building magazine, Mark Brinkley confirms the traffic concerns I posted about earlier this month (from a position of considerably greater expertise!) ; in particular, he highlights the consequences of the Government’s requirement that “Eco-towns must be new settlements – separate and distinct from existing towns but well linked to them”:

Why throw that into the mix? What is remotely eco about it? In terms of transportation, building away from existing urban centres is very bad news. It requires much more infrastructure and adds to travel and commuting times. Why abandon the policy thrusts towards urban extensions and regenerating brownfield?

The CPRE has also come out against the proposal. My friend, and former neighbour at University, Tom Oliver, is now their head of rural policy and was quoted in this Independent article which summarises many of the arguments against the Micheldever proposals (although is a bit light on the transport issues).

Tom Oliver, the head of countryside policy for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said such a new town “would overshadow a huge swathe of rural Hampshire”. He added: “The site has been rejected repeatedly as a possible major new development and has only returned as a figment of corporate opportunism. To decorate this proposal with ‘eco-bling’ is cynical and undermines the credibility of the Government’s eco-towns competition.”

One final tidbit. The news broke today that Tony Blair has been signed up by Zurich – the parent company of the Micheldever development – as an environmental advisor. Given Blair’s record on the environment, I’m tempted to repeat Tom Lehrer’s reaction when he heard that Kissinger had won the Nobel peace prize.

Because Eagle Star’s plan to trash the environment and increase the Winchester district’s carbon footprint will likely make them north of £1 billion were they to get the go-ahead, there’s plenty of money in this project (at least on their side) for endless consultancy (possibly including Blair) to try and push the project through – even if they assume a very low chance of success. Although the Dever Society has done a great job of fundraising, Eagle Star is an incredibly expensive company to take on, so if you feel like becoming a friend of the Dever Society in order to support their opposition to the proposals, the membership form is here. If you haven’t already signed the petition against the Micheldever development, you can do so here.

PS: I particularly like the term ‘eco-bling’ used by Tom and in the Building magazine article. In the US last week, I heard another new eco-term for the first time: ‘green-collar worker’. When I contacted Tom after reading his quotes in the Independent article, I emailed to ask (among other things) if he was one. He answered happily to the lunch I suggested in the email, but, to date, is strangely silent on the ‘green collar’ issue.

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