Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Criticism of eco-town bid

I can report that the cabinet at Restormel Borough Council has backed the call of Policy and Scrutiny Committee 4 (which I chair) to raise objections to the proposed ‘eco-town’ development around St Austell.

I am especially pleased because the Liberal Democrat dominated cabinet watered down the comments in an earlier committee report which objected to the eco-town (see blog for 17 June 2008).

This time around, Policy and Scrutiny 4 had met on 6th January to discuss the new Planning Policy Statement (PPS) on eco-towns and the Sustainability Appraisal of the St Austell proposal. A detailed report on the Imerys proposal, written by myself and Cllr Tim Jones (vice-chairman) was presented to the committee and unanimously endorsed.

A wide range of concerns were raised which have now been backed by the cabinet.

· The Council stated that it did not support the housing-led proposal for an eco-town around St Austell and the China Clay Area.

· The Council reiterated its opposition to the plans to build 15,700 new houses in Restormel over the next 20 years, as set out in the latest version of the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS). It felt that such housing growth was not about meeting local needs and was unsustainable.

· It criticised Imerys’ eco-town proposal as being out-of-line with the Government’s PPS as it would be on six separate sites and was not a single ‘new town.’

· The Council challenged the undemocratic top-down nature of the process which they felt undermined the local planning process.

· The Council also stated that it did not believe that the proposal was ‘employment-led’ as claimed. This was especially so with over 50% of the proposed employment land being proposed for the most western individual part of the scheme at Nanpean – some distance from the bulk of the housing at Baal, Blackpool, and Goonbarrow.

· The Council also challenged the statement in the Sustainability Appraisal that the land was all “previously disturbed land” as some of the proposal area was definitely greenfield.

This is in stark contrast to the views of MP Matthew Taylor who gave his backing to the Imerys ‘eco-town’ proposal last week, when government minister Ian Wright visited Cornwall.

It is clear to me that central government plans to build 15,700 new properties and the so-called ‘eco-town’ are inextricably linked. Such a level of housing in the Restormel area is not sustainable and would equate to a massive 35% increase in housing stock in only two decades. If the proposed housing numbers are not reduced, it would mean that we would be expected to accommodate up to 10,000 new houses in and around St Austell during the next two decades. That is not about meeting local needs.

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