Pennbury: still not an “Eco Town”

No to Pennbury Eco Town LeicestershireThe Eco-towns prospectus issued by the government in July last year laid out some key features that were to be achieved, including:

New settlement with separate and distinct identity but good links to surrounding towns and cities in terms of jobs, transport and services. Locations should minimise flood risk and taking account of water quality and existing water resources.

So let’s see how well Pennbury, the proposed “Eco Town”, conforms:-

Transport Infrastructure

The principal route into the location is the narrow Gartree Road (an historic roman route). The Co-operative Group cannot build their way out of the congestion problem by offering to fund new roads which distribute the extra traffic around the new town. This will do nothing to address the lack of capacity on main routes into the City, the A47, A6 and Gartree Road.

The Pennbury “Eco Town” location lacks appropriate transport infrastructure and the opportunities to provide such infrastructure would be very limited and expensive. Despite assurances from the Co-operative Group, no detailed evidence has been provided about how the good links to surrounding communities will be achieved other than vague descriptions about provision of walking and cycle routes, ie rendering those assurances meaningless.

Rail

Market Harborough (12 miles) or Leicester (4 miles) are the nearest railway stations from Pennbury “Eco Town”. The most direct route to Leicester station would be via the Gartree Road. Clearly public transport links would be the optimum option, but there are none along this route. The most direct route to Market Harborough would be to use the proposed new A47 to A6 link road, and then to join the Great Glen bypass. Requiring Pennbury “Eco Town” residents to commute along the already busy A6 to Market Harborough to catch the London bound trains cannot be considered carbon neutral or environmentally sustainable.

Inclusion in the proposal of a restored railway station for Great Glen strongly suggests that the Co-operative Group expect a demand for London-bound commuting. To interpret the station as a means of carrying workers into Leicester is counter-intuitive. They would first have to travel almost as far away from the city as the bus journey into the city centre. How eco-friendly is it to expect Leicestershire-based workers to commute to London? And how can these London-bound workers expect to have good links with the surrounding community (ie Leicestershire)?

Road

The M1 and M69 are the nearest motorways and via the Junction 21 interchange. There is no direct route available from the proposed Pennbury “Eco Town” location to junction 21.

A full eastern bypass to the south of Leicester and Oadby, Wigston and Blaby towards the M1, could alleviate traffic congestion closer in towards Leicester, but would be enormously expensive to construct, even if the Department for Transport were willing to allow a further junction on the M1 south of Junction 21. When questioned at a confidential briefing (not open to the public, and neither have any reports from that briefing been made public) on 26 November 2007, the Co-operative Group confirmed they had not included this outer route in their bid.

Public Transport

There is currently no public bus transport infrastructure serving the Pennbury “Eco Town” location. No detail has been provided by the Co-operative Group of the Pennbury “Eco Town” proposal concerning any specific improvements to the existing public transport save for mention of a transport hub to the western edge of the location and using the narrow Gartree Road as the main route into Leicester. If this were to be used as proposed, it would require large scale investment to widen and strengthen it to ensure it could handle the increased public and private road traffic.

Environment

Dr Graham Jones, a Senior Research Associate of the University of Oxford Centre for the Environment, and a holder of a doctorate in the University of Leicester, where he is Honorary Visiting Fellow in the School of Historical Studies reported on the environmental consequences of the proposed Pennbury “Eco Town” development. The Co-operative’s own sustainability appraisal report for a sustainable urban extension (the same location as the “Eco Town”) concluded there would be “adverse impacts on local level biodiversity features and protected species”.

  • 42 badger setts
  • geat crested newts (protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981)
  • bats (protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981)
  • sparrow hawks
  • sky larks
  • grey partridge
  • red kites
  • barn owls (all birds protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981)
  • potentially common dormice (protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981)

Cultural Heritage and Archaeology

The Gartree Road is a Roman route from Leicester (Ratae Coritanorum) to Colchester (Camulodunum) in the east. Much of its length through Leicestershire still follows the original route and in the area of the Pennbury “Eco Town” location. Further along this route near Hallaton, an unique find of silver treasure coins and a silver helmet were unearthed in 2001. Much further archaeological investigation is needed to confirm why this treasure was buried in a remote hilltop close to the Gartree Road and whether further hoards might be buried at other remote high points elsewhere along the route, such as the location for the Pennbury “Eco Town”. A number of scheduled ancient monuments lie adjacent to this route, with three of them in the proposed Pennbury “Eco Town” site. A number of archaeological sites have been recorded in the vicinity. Although not exhaustive, the themes raised and discussed in this letter are major areas of concern for the community and none have been satisfactorily covered by the Co-operative Group in private or public meetings.

Despite government specification of “a separate and distinct identity”, the population will surely gravitate towards Leicester and put greater pressure on city services without being administratively part of Leicester. This will create more social and environmental strains.

There is no local support from any of the councils, nor the community, for the proposed Pennbury “Eco Town”. It should be rejected.

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