Eco-slums

I don’t like venturing into national politics but, having seen that he who has been anointed leader has suggested the building* of five new ‘eco-towns’ there is one thing I feel I must say.

No!

The aspirations may be laudable.

A home-owning, asset-owning, wealth-owning democracy is what would be in the interests of our country because everybody would have a stake in the country. The problem is that even with the great ambitions of the 1950s or the 1980s, they did not succeed in widening the scope for home ownership to large numbers of people who want it.

But the history of ‘New Towns’ built in the last half of the last century should have taught us that New Towns (even new eco-towns) are not the way to achieve high quality communities. It seems the lesson is unlearnt.

The 5 new eco-towns, each housing between 10,000 and 20,000 new homeowners, will be built primarily on brownfield land. Each new home [will] be built to zero-carbon standards, allowing them to qualify for a zero rate of stamp duty, all the energy and electricity they use will be generated locally from sustainable sources, and they will all be built with strong public transport infrastructure. They will include new state-of-the-art zero carbon schools and health centres.

The first such proposed town will be located on a brownfield site, the abandoned Oakington Barracks in Cambridgeshire, and will include 10,000 new homes, with electricity delivered by solar and wind power.

I’ve lived in a New Town, Harlow. Many of my relatives live in another. I have also lived in the St Ann’s area of Nottingham, an area which is about the size of the proposed eco-towns, was redeveloped in the early 1970s, then redeveloped again in the late 1990s when the planners’ and architects’ bright ideas turned out to be not quite so bright after all. Parts of Harlow and the late-twentieth-century parts of Swindon are meeting similar fates.

Towns evolve over a long period and, with the best will in the world, no town planner can match that evolutionary process when designing a new town from scratch. Concentrating houses with the latest innovative ideas from the architects and developers in one place (or five) is a demonstrable mistake too. Some, possibly many, of the innovative ideas will prove not to be durable, as parts of Harlow and Swindon demonstrate. Today’s innovative house designs may well be the slums of the future. To propose these new eco-towns is to plan in the sort of structural problems that towns like Harlow and Swindon are having to cope with today.

* Note the window title on the page that links to: since when has an archive of press releases been a ‘blog archive’?