Friday, February 01, 2008

House Points: The Leicestershire eco town

My House Points column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

Eco incongruity

In Midland England W. G. Hoskins described eastern Leicestershire as “a landscape of sharp hills, woodland, stone-built villages and many fine churches”. The Stoughton Estate is good example of this. Defra’s website says it provides ideal walks and suggests you enjoy the pasture beside the River Sence.

Stoughton has been owned by the Co-operative Wholesale Society since 1919. It had a dairy herd until the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001 and now grows wheat, oil seed rape and spring beans. It is also home to the Co-op’s ‘From Farm to Fork’ project, which gives primary school children a better understanding of where their food comes from. Since September 2005 over 3,000 have visited Stoughton under the scheme.

But there may not be many more. For Stoughton is one of 57 places around the country being investigated as possible sites for the government’s shiny new ‘eco towns’. Late on Tuesday night Edward Garnier, the Tory MP for Harborough (and my own constituency member), secured a short debate on Stoughton and eco towns in general.

He explained that Harborough district is already due to take 7,000 new dwellings, yet the Co-op’s proposal is to build a settlement twice the size of Market Harborough, its largest town. (Incidentally, the Market Harborough has great potential as a unit of measurement. “That new estate is a quarter of a Market Harborough”, people could say. Or: “It’s a great city – at least ten Market Harboroughs.”)

And, said Garnier, the plans have never been debated in Parliament or by Leicestershire county council, Harborough district council, Leicester city council, Oadby and Wigston borough council, the East Midlands regional assembly or the East Midlands Development Agency.

In the past, when the Co-op tried to develop Stoughton as a “new town”, the plans were thrown out. But no one is sure of the extent to which the prefix “eco” will get you around current planning law. At the end of Garnier’s debate we were little wiser. The minister responding to the debate was Ian Wright, the urchin who won the Hartlepool by-election for Labour a few years ago. Just as he got into his stride, the Deputy Speaker called time.

So enjoy Stoughton’s landscape while you can.

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