There's lots of local consternation about the spin put on Brown's EcoTowns in the weekend papers. Here and Here.
The first of these towns will be Northstowe - which just happens to be in my district council's area and the council has been working on this for four years so this is not a great new idea from Mr Brown. As I am a cabinet member on that council I will pick my words carefully.
First claim "homes will be zero-carbon". Its a lovely aspiration which everyone would like to achieve but actually the current plans are more like 10% energy from renewable sources. Zero carbon homes would be very expensive so Brown will need to follow this up with lots of money.
Next claim "These towns are to be built on brownfield sites". Northstowe will be built on land previously used by the MOD at Oakington. A small part of it has been built on before - but land used by the MOD as the green spaces around aeroplane landing strips is also defined as "brown-field".
Next claim "combining the environment with housing" and "They will take as their model Poundbury, the village created in 1993 by the Prince of Wales in Cornwall. " - I've been to Poundbury (actually it's in Dorset). I was impressed. There is lots of open space. Northstowe was initally meant to be 8,000 homes. At 10,000 homes there will be far higher densities of housing than Poundbury. Plans for open spaces, a country park and undeveloped countryside "green seperation" between the town and the existing villages could all be much more difficult to fit in.
Another claim "The towns will have new road and rail links and will include zero-carbon schools and health centres." Actually the main road to Northstowe comes off the notorious A14 at its most congested stretch. Work to improve the A14 will not even start until AFTER the first residents have moved in. There are no rail links as such planned but a guided bus way will take people down the old railway line and then join buses on Cambridge's streets. Yes it will have a health centre but the local hospital, Hinchingbrooke, faces a deficit of £49 million and is currently undergoing public consultation about how to strip £14 million from "costs"...........
We do need affordable housing, housing for young people, for young people to be able to get on the property ladder. Cambridge house prices been showing some of the biggest hikes in the country. We want these houses to be as eco friendly as possible. I also want local people to still have a say on planning. As a councillor I know that to get this we have to work with the government. If Mr Brown is to make this his personal "flagship" he is going to have to address some of these concerns.