The shortlist for England’s 10 eco-towns is out but now the real contest begins. With the winners due to be announced by the end of the year we brought eco-town supporter Wayne Hemingway and eco-town protester Myles Pollock together to slug it out. Emily Wright referees. Portraits by Julian Anderson
The gloves are off. The 15 shortlisted eco-town sites have been announced and bidders have until the end of June to make it into the final 10.
To help them, the government has appointed a 12-strong board to advise developers on issues such as design and sustainability. Among them is Wayne Hemingway, the fashion guru and co-founder of Hemingway Design, which tackles everything from furniture to housing estates.
However, the panelists and developers will be up against people like Myles Pollock, a part-time magician and spokesperson for the Better Accessible Responsible Development (Bard) Campaign. This is a protest group (pictured) formed to oppose Middle Quinton, the eco-town proposed for Warwickshire. Dame Judi Dench is just one of the group’s high-profile members.
Here, Hemingway and Pollock go head-to-head over everything, from the definition of an eco-town to what the 12 panelists should be looking at in each bid and, um, where to find Dartford on a map …
Kicking off then, how would you define an eco-town?
Pollock I don’t think anyone knows, actually. There are government papers that lay down criteria for eco-towns, but they will all be broken as far as I can see. You can build the perfect eco-town and have no carbon footprint but the minute you put people in there, it ceases to be eco because of the disruption that will be caused and the traffic going in and out.
Hemingway That misses the point. The key is to create more homes for people to live in and improve quality of life. The demographic is changing. People are marrying later and living on their own for longer so there is a higher demand for, and a greater shortage of, homes. Getting on the housing ladder early now is almost impossible. The average age for a first-time buyer is 34. We owe it to the next generation to address this problem and create something really good.
P I agree with most of that, Wayne, but it’s got absolutely nothing to do with eco-towns.
H I think you are getting too hung up on the name.
P I don’t agree at all but, moving on, my main issue with eco-towns is that, as far as I can see, the government plans to build them anywhere, put people in and hope everyone will be happy. You simply cannot plonk people down in the middle of the countryside and call it a community.
H I agree with that. I’m on the panel of advisers and will make sure I voice my concerns about that. We will carefully look at all the applications for the final 10, and trust me, I am bloody critical. Rest assured, it’s not a case of plonking people down, but providing the right infrastructure to make it work – public transport, shops, schools. If the developers applying can’t show me they will have all this in place, I will have no problem fighting against them. The overriding point of the eco-towns is to create places where people can be happy. We have made mistakes in the past, building horrific tower blocks to house people, but that is an international problem and we should learn from it. If we can’t then we’re really stupid. Eco-towns should provide people with a place to walk the dog, kick a football around and plant their runner beans.
P Again, that has nothing to do with eco-towns. You’re beginning to sound like a politician. It should not be economic but ecological, hence “eco”. And I have huge concerns that all 15 shortlisted towns are, in effect, on greenfield sites with no transport links. I’m not anti eco-towns, I’m anti eco-towns being thrown down on unsuitable sites and I feel a lot of the suggested sites are totally inappropriate. All these people will be driving their cars up and down our tiny roads, ruining villages and ruining the lives of people living in the surrounding area.
H I hope you have faith that people like me on the panel, who are not politicians, are prepared to nag the government to make sure this doesn’t happen. I couldn’t give a toss about being Labour or Conservative.
P I hope you 12 magic disciples will ask the government “how the hell did this site get put on this list when it’s obviously just not suitable?”, because if this goes wrong, it will take a generation to sort it out.
H From what I understand, there are 15 shortlisted sites we have to cut to 10. If I find all 15 unsuitable, I’ll say so. I will then say they need to be made suitable – if they need more public transport links, more jobs to be put in place, more opportunities to start up businesses – whatever it may be, I will make sure there is infrastructure in place to support these new homes. But I ask you to accept my point that young people need a place to live that they can afford.
P There are three cottages in my village with subsidised rent on offer for young people and nobody wants them. Young people don’t want to live in the country where there is no cinema, no nightlife and no shops.
H Exactly! That’s the point. Some of these eco-towns will have 15,000 homes and a population of 45,000. That’s a town half the size of Blackburn. They’ll have all that stuff.
P I just feel it’s a big risk as so many lives could be ruined. Why not start with one? A test? Why not build one in the north of Scotland or, even better, in Hyde Park?
H Your solution to all this is to build an eco-town in Hyde Park?
P Well, Ken Livingstone is always going on about how wonderful London transport is. Hyde Park would therefore be a good site, I imagine. Okay, so I’m being a bit frivolous, but there is an argument that these new towns should be built near big cities where the infrastructure is already in place. I’d be less concerned if I thought all these conditions to developing new homes would be met, but I just don’t think this infrastructure you speak of will ever be built. Then we’ll have trucks and cars thundering up and down tiny roads and over small bridges.
H That’s not true. We’re working on a scheme in Dartford where it has worked, getting the infrastructure in place first.
P That’s because Dartford is in London.
H What? No it’s not; it’s 44 miles out of London, in Kent. Look at a map.*
P Well, there are two tunnels under the Thames to it.
H The Thames isn’t just in London. Rivers run out to the sea, you know! Anyway, another point is that nothing has been built yet and if I have anything to do with things, it won’t be unless the bidders meet the appropriate criteria. I do have some views which are quite similar to yours, Myles, but I am just not selfish enough to think I have the right to leave the next generation in this state. Did you hear me before when I said the average age of a first-time buyer is 34?
P That’s not new. I was 30 when I bought my first house and my financial situation was exactly the same. My mortgage was about three times my earnings.
H It’s 10 times now Myles.
P Only in London.
H The average in the north is seven times. Come on Myles …
P Let me finish my point. I think that young people need to save more money. Youngsters now don’t seem to do that. They go out on a Saturday night and spend an awful lot of money getting sloshed. No wonder they then have no money for a house.
H I don’t think we should get into a debate on teenage drinking. We’ll be here all night.
Well, fun as that would be, have either of you any final thoughts?
P I feel better after having this debate with Wayne. With people like him on the panel, maybe some of these concerns will get through to the government, which would be a leap forward.
H I understand why there have been objections to developments in certain areas, but I’m not prepared to back down because of that. I’ve looked at mistakes that have been made in housing in the UK and admit it’s hard to say problems won’t occur again, but I believe this can be done well and it’ll really make a difference to lives in the UK. I think that’s worth fighting for.
* Dartford actually lies about 16 miles outside central London.
The eco-towns shortlist
- Bordon-Whitehill, Hampshire
- Coltishall, Norfolk
- Curborough, Staffordshire
- Elsenham, Essex
- Ford, West Sussex
- Hanley Grange, Cambridgeshire
- Imerys, nr St Austell, Cornwall
- Leeds city region, West Yorkshire
- Manby and Strubby, Lincolnshire
- Marston Vale and New Marston, Bedfordshire
- Middle Quinton, Warwickshire
- Pennbury, Leicestershire
- Rossington, South Yorkshire
- Rushcliffe, Nottinghamshire
- Weston Otmoor, Oxfordshire
What would you name an eco-town? Go to forum.building.co.uk/forums to start a discussion
Original print headline 'Ready to rumble'