Rough ride for eco-town plan minister

An “eco town” plan for the former RAF Coltishall airbase has had a rollercoaster week, criticised at almost every turn.The latest setback came on Monday night when district councillors did a U-turn and replaced their initial guarded welcome with fierce opposition.

An “eco town” plan for the former RAF Coltishall airbase has had a rollercoaster week, criticised at almost every turn.

The latest setback came on Monday night when district councillors did a U-turn and replaced their initial guarded welcome with fierce opposition.

Nevertheless housing minister Caroline Flint insisted that supporters of the eco-town principle outweighed objectors by five to one, and that the debate should not be dominated by those who “shout loudest.”

Her comments prompted plan opponent North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb to weigh in with stinging criticism that Ms Flint was “high-handed, charmless and arrogant” and claiming she “lorded it over people” during her trip to the former base last week.


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On Monday night there were plenty of cheers as parishes were allowed to voice their views on the proposal to a full meeting of North Norfolk District Council, on the last day of initial public consultation over the plans.

Marilyn Farrington from Coltishall said the eco element was a “sweetener” for an “oversized misfit” of a scheme that would not otherwise be granted. It could never be carbon neutral and would be a disaster for the area.

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Council leader Virginia Gay said the council cabinet's earlier support, with reservations, had turned to opposition after learning about the possible increase in size from 5,000 to 10,000 homes and major concerns from carbon reduction experts.

Benjamin Cabbell Manners called the plan “stupid”, saying it should be on a main trunk road and near jobs, not at Scottow where the “industrial area is two tractor drivers and a stockman”.

And Angie Tillet likened the undemocratic imposition of the idea to Soviet Russia or Zimbabwe.

There were cheers from the packed public gallery when Peter Willcox hoped it was not too late to put the brakes on a “back-door development” on a site which should be returned to agriculture.

The council voted unanimously to oppose eco towns in general over concerns about the sustainability and haste, and Coltishall in particular because of the site's remoteness, feasibility of getting investment for new transport links such as a light-rail system, impact on the countryside and ability to provide affordable housing close to jobs.

Developer Richard Davies said afterwards he was not surprised by the concerns, which were understandable though some were ill-informed.

“I don't know of any eco town that has not had a backlash, but we are merely following government guidelines. If we don't do this where else can the region get the 33,000 houses it needs? Where are the sites big enough?

The debate came after a day of protest which saw hundreds of campaigners gather at the House of Commons, including ex-tennis star Tim Henman's father Tony from Oxfordshire, warning that eco towns could be the rural ghettos of the future.

The housing minister said a YouGov poll showed 46pc of people supported eco towns, while just 9pc were against.

Ms Flint stressed: “We must ensure the voices of people most disadvantaged by the housing crisis are not drowned out by a vocal minority of nimbys and celebrities.”

But Mr Lamb fears Whitehall will ignore local views and enforce its will over the eco town.

At a lunch for the area's Liberal Democrats, Mr Lamb said Ms Flint had announced her intention to visit at short notice, forcing all interested local parties to rearrange their diaries at great inconvenience.

“She turned up 20 minutes late, didn't apologise, and just started talking at us, completely cutting off a parish councillor who was talking. She talked over people, challenging them because they were critical. It really was utterly shocking.

“One was left with the sense that this decision could well be imposed on us by central government, irrespective of what local people think.”

t Mr Lamb, the Lib Dems' shadow health secretary, fears a similar “diktat from Whitehall” will lead to a polyclinic opening in Norfolk, despite serious opposition from medical professionals.

“There is real concern that GP practices in the surrounding area could be closed down and subsumed within a polyclinic. People would have to travel further and receive a less personal service, without continuity of care. But government says: 'No. We are introducing this in your PCT area',” he said.

Britain's present highly-centralised government left individuals and communities feeling powerless in areas including planning, health and education, creating a “dependency culture,” Mr Lamb claimed.

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