Unfortunately, that’s not a cause for celebration.
Pennbury will not be an “Eco Town”. Instead it will be a series of small “eco villages”, all called Pennbury, and all with “green wedge” around them. Although there won’t be any green wedge left after 15,000 to 20,000 houses, shops, business, schools and possibily community facilities have been built. Yep, even though consultation started on 3 April, over a month ago, Co-operative Estates have still not said how many houses they are building or exactly how many of them will be “affordable” (and they haven’t defined affordable either). What they have said is:-
Lynda Shillaw, managing director of the Co-operative Estates, said: “At present, there is a huge gap between what the public perceive an eco-town to be and the community we know we can create. Our challenge is to make sure they understand how different the eco-town will be from any existing community and the significant benefits it will have not just for those living there but those living around it. Once people understand what it’s about, that it’s not just about dumping houses in the middle of the countryside, people start to get enthused,” she said. The Co-op will be suggesting alternatives to a concentrated development, which could be a range of settlements surrounded by green wedges. Ideas on how to solve the transport problems will also be put forward. Ms Shillaw said: “The solution around transport and traffic at the moment is bus-based, leading edge, with “smart” technology. It’s capable of being future-proofed so that at some point in the future it could take a tram.” The Co-op has not ruled out building new roads as part of the plans but, in its current proposed transport solution, is not planning to ask the Government or local authorities for any extra funding.
Someone who’s not enthused is the Bishop of Leicester who is concerned that Pennbury “Eco Town” or “Eco Villages” will end up being an eco-ghetto. He has a point. In order to buy houses in Pennbury, purchasers will have to already have jobs in order to fund their house purchase. Those jobs will either be in Leicestershire or a commute away. Those jobs will not be transferable to Pennbury. The Co-operative Estates vaguely talk about wi-fi technology and people working from home (as if everyone can do this) or vaguely talking about buses, making a big assumption that buses will a) run to a timetable than enables everyone to get to work on time, including parents doing the school run and b) buses running to Pennbury will somehow be miraculously more efficient than buses serving nearby villages. Ours is a half hourly Monday to Saturday service that stops at 6 pm and both buses I caught today were running late.
Another party who are not enthused are the Leicester Chamber of Commerce. Yep, business people are not seeing Pennbury as an opportunity to develop new business outlets, to become employers within Pennbury itself or to develop expertise in eco-conveyancing services for the people the Co-operative Estates think are going to buy their houses. They see it as a huge distraction from regional business plans and current and future regeneration projects.
I’m not enthused. Pennbury will not be in my back yard. It will create gridlock on the A-road I rely on to get to work, to go shopping, to get in and out of Leicester. We will lose wildlife – Co-operative Estates still haven’t said what they’re going to do about that either. In my back yard is the former De Mortfort University Campus, currently a building site for new homes, some of which are affordable, social housing. I support that. I have not seen anything from Co-operative Estates to suggest that Pennbury is needed or that it will not simply be a ghetto where no one wants to live and no one wants to open a business in.