THE Government's decision to include Ford Airfield in a shortlist of 15 potential EcoTowns has received vastly contrasting reactions.
The Ford Airfield Vision Group has welcomed housing and planning minister Caroline Flint's announcement, hailing it as "a fantastic opportunity for Arun".
However, MPs Nick Gibb and Nick Herbert, and Arun District Council, greeted the news with dismay. The two MPs vowed to continue their fight against proposals for 5,000 homes, business developments, transport improvements and community facilities, while Arun leader Gill Brown said she was appalled that no account had been taken of the council's consistent and overwhelming objections
"New town in disguise"
Mr Herbert, MP for Arundel and South Downs, said: "This is a new town in disguise. There's nothing 'eco' about building 5,000 houses on a green field site. We simply don't have the infrastructure to support additional housing on this scale
"West Sussex is already being required to build an additional 58,000 houses. When the A27 is congested, our hospitals are being downgraded and there are shortages of water, further development is simply unsustainable.
"What's more, the local planning process has been totally subverted. Arun District Council has objected to development at Ford, but the Government is seeking to impose housing over the heads of local communities."
Mr Gibb, MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, said: "It is local people and elected local councillors who know where new housing can be built in an environmentally sustainable way. It isn't for Whitehall mandarins or Labour Ministers to tell us where and what to build. This proposal is universally opposed by local people, by the parish councils and by Arun District Council and we need to fight it every step of the way."
Rod Hague, of the The Ford Vision Group of landowners and housebuilders, commented: "This presents a fantastic opportunity for Arun to have an exemplary project that will be zero carbon, provide much needed new homes, new jobs and new social infrastructure, including a major funding contribution towards an Arundel bypass.
"The successful short listing of Arun reflects the strength of our bid's environmental and sustainability credentials which met all the criteria set down by the Government. Over the next few months we will be widely consulting with local stakeholders to get their views and input into our Eco Town proposal.'"
An emergency meeting of the Arun's cabinet has been called for Monday (April 14) to kick-start a community campaign against the proposal. Members of Parliament, town and parish councils and other partners are invited to attend the meeting, in the council chamber at the Arun Civic Centre in Littlehampton starting, at 6pm (swithced from the original 4pm start). The meeting will be open to the public.
Added Mrs Brown: "Our arguments against this are sound. A development like this cannot possibly achieve the principles of sustainability, delivering local employment, developing on brown field land and adequate provision of affordable housing. Nor does Ford have the necessary infrastructure to support an eco-town – we believe that is a simple and irrefutable argument."
In her ministerial announcement, Mrs Flint, said proposals for Eco-Towns would be subject to a planning application and full local consultation, with each application to be decided on its merits. The local planning authority, she said, would need to take into account all the impacts of the proposals.
But Arun's cabinet member for planning, councillor Ricky Bower. said: "I feel absolutely no sense of reassurance that we will be listened to as a planning authority. The minister has completely ignored our grave concerns that such a development would be diametrically opposed to locally agreed planning policies. Those policies have been developed in partnership with local communities, taking into consideration local needs. The minister's announcement says, in effect, that local policies meeting local needs mean nothing to central government."
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