Pennbury “Eco Town”: is anyone saying Yes?

No to Pennbury Eco Town LeicestershireScraptoft Parish Poll – 98.5% voted No

Thurnby & Bushby Parish Poll – 98.8% voted No.

MPs Edward Garnier and Alan Duncan have spoken out against the “Eco Town”.

Leicestershire County Council – are against the “Eco Town”.  Equally local councils, Harborough District Council and Oadby and Wigston Borough Council have expressed huge concerns about costs, lack of infrastructure and frustrating lack of detail from the Co-operative Estates.

The Bishop of Leicester has raised concerns – completely ignored by the Co-operative Estates – about Pennbury becoming an “Eco ghetto”.

The Leicester Chamber of Commerce have said no and have raised concerns about Pennbury taking resources away from Leicester city’s current and planned regeneration.

The Co-operative Estates have still not said how many houses they plan to build (15,000 – 20,000), have still not confirmed what transport infrastructure they will put in place to serve Pennbury even though their own projections are that 70% of the working population in Pennbury will be working in Leicester and will gridlock the A47 and A46 to get there, and have consistently failed to give detailed plans or engage nearby communities who are going to have to live with the results of this disaster.

Is anyone saying “yes”?

Pennbury “Eco Town”: the lie of the land

“We hope that if the eco-town is included in the short-list then local people will recognise the usefulness of influencing the proposals – so please look at the questions that follow as well, and let us know your views.” Wow, the Co-operative Estates want to know our views… but only because the public consultation period is open to the end of June.

So let’s look at their survey then. The questions are simple: rate the importance on a scale of unimportant to very important and themed around transport, community, etc. You are asking to rate the importance of questions such as “provision of infrastructure to address traffic problems in east Leicester by including measures such as park and ride on the A6 and A47” (I’ll ignore that that should be east Leicestershire), “homes designed to reduce energy and water use, and minimise associated household running costs”, “working with regeneration teams in Leicester and in the region, to attract a range of businesses to strengthen the local economy and not compete with opportunities elsewhere” (love to know how they’re actually going to do that one), “water on the site being managed to avoid flood risk in the immediate and wider area” (again, how are they going to do this?), “healthcare provision so as to meet the needs of the growing population as the phases are developed”, “support for a new academy for sustainable technology in the town as well as working with existing schools and education authorities”, “homes designed to provide opportunities for home working with broadband access” and “essential infrastructure, for instance waste recycling, delivered from the start to ensure long term sustainability of the eco-town”.

Just how do you say any of these are not important? And can’t you just see the Co-operative Estates arguing that “95% of responses to the survey rated provision of infrastructure as fairly or very important” (the other 5% weren’t sure, or spoilt their surveys in disgust).

So let’s look at another survey: the one the County Council did in response to the Co-operative Estate’s Pennbury plans. The County Council have concluded, the “eco town” will need £850 million of transport improvements. The “eco town” will need 8 primary and 2 secondary schools, costing £94 million. Health services would cost a further £37 million, a social care and community base would cost £2 million with running costs of £5.9 million a year. A waste site, fire services, library, parks, sport and leisure facilities would cost £5.4 million.

The Co-operative Estate’s response, “We’re interested in how the county council proposes to bring forward infrastructure without the support we can bring… We are the only people coming forward with solutions to these.”

So the Co-operative Estates want a slap on the back for “solving” a problem that wouldn’t exist if it were not going to build Pennbury? Without explaining how they’re actually going to solve their own problems without landing local taxpayers with additional bills. According to the Co-operative Estates 70% of Pennbury’s working population will work in Leicester. They’ve failed to answer the simple question: how are they going to get to work without gridlocking the A6 and A47 and causing major disruption to existing residents?

County Council Leader David Parsons is right, “The Pennbury proposals raise more questions than they answer.” It’s about time the Co-operative Estates started to answer them.  I understand the “usefulness of influencing” the proposals only too well, I don’t understand that the Co-operative Estates are listening.

The “Eco Town” that isn’t and its “transport plans”

The Co-operative Estates finally got round to publishing its transport plans for Pennbury, the proposed “Eco Town” (it’s an “eco town” again rather than a series of “eco villages”) in Leicestershire.

The Co-operative Estates state, “It is anticipated that 85% of journeys generated at the proposed ‘eco town’ will be going to destinations within the development itself or to nearby Leicester, where it is expected that up to 70% of the working population of the proposed ‘eco town’ will secure employment.”

So the Co-operative Estates admit that 70% of the working population of the “eco town” will actually be working in Leicester, not in the “eco town” itself.  Therefore the “eco town” will not generate or attract sufficient businesses and employers to employ more than 30% of the working population within Pennbury.  That wasn’t the original plan.

At least they finally admit that most people living at Pennbury “eco town” will be working in Leicester. Not sure about that future tense will though, since, in order to buy houses in Pennbury “eco town”, purchasers will have to be already working in order to secure mortgages. So how are they going to get to work?

The Co-operative Estates state, “The ‘eco town’ will make it easier for people to catch the bus by providing more convenient real time bus information.  At a basic level, this will be information on when the next bus will arrive available at the stop.  In addition, we are proposing ways to make this real time information available to people’s homes, to workplaces and to mobile phones meaning you always know when the next bus is due, making it as convenient as travelling by car.”

We already have real time bus information in Leicestershire, it’s a service called Traveline and the phone number is displayed at most bus stops (at least those bus stops that have signs).  It’s already available to anyone who can reach a phone whether they are at work, at home, visiting or standing at the bus stop using a mobile.  Some existing bus stops also have Startrak screens which (theoretically) state when the next bus will arrive.  However, knowing when the next bus is due won’t make bus travel “as convenient as travelling by car.”  A wait for half an hour or more will always be more inconvenient than getting in a car and starting a journey immediately.

The Co-operative Estates state, “To be attractive and make people want to use them, buses and bus stations need to be safe at all times of the day and night.  We’re proposing modern buses equipped with the latest security and safety measures (including CCTV).  We will also be looking to ensure buses run regularly into the evening and through the night, in line with demand.  We want people to be able to get into, out and around the ‘eco town’ safely, no matter what time of day or night.”

Trouble is, it’s not just buses and bus stations in the “eco town” that need to be safe and secure.  If someone is travelling back to the “eco town” from Leicester, then they won’t do so if the bus stops, buses and bus station in Leicester aren’t safe.

The vast majority of bus passengers want weather-proofing as a priority, ie bus stops that offer proper shelter from wind and rain.  But the Co-op don’t say anything about weather and public transport.  Clearly bus shelters are not part of their plans.

The Co-operative Estates state, “We are also proposing to make improvements to the main roads connecting the ‘eco town’ with Leicester city, including the A6 and A47.  In partnership with local authorities, we are proposing introducing alternative uses of new and existing roadspace to give public transport priority and to help make bus connections fast and reliable.”

So the Co-op is going to build new roads outside the “eco town”, then.  And where are these new roads going to be?  The Co-op aren’t saying.  Wonder why?  Lack of planning or because they know any new roads will be unpopular? 

There is no way that public transport can be given priority on the Gartree Road (the main route from the proposed “eco town” into Leicester).  Gartree Road is a single carriageway and too narrow to introduce a cycle track on it let alone a bus lane.  The A6 and A47 have existing bus and cycle lanes where they fit.  If the Co-op want to introduce further measures on either or both roads, they’d better come up with some solid proposals. 

The existing roads will not take 20,000 extra cars and the Co-op needs to do more than just make wishful noises about giving public transport priority.

The Co-operative Estates state, “As the proposed ‘eco town’ is 7.5 miles (over 15 minutes journey time) from the M1, it is unlikely to become a major commuter settlement serving towns away from Leicester.  An M1 link would not be consistent with our plans to reduce reliance on the car and therefore we are not seeking a specific response to questions around this option.”

Since when has an “over 15 minutes journey time” stopped East Leicestershire residents from getting to the M1.  Again, given that most Pennbury residents, 70% according to the Co-op’s own figures, will be working in Leicester, how does the Co-op know they won’t be working in Fosse Park, Grove Park Triangle shopping and business parks, the Leicestershire Constabulary’s Head Quarters at St John in Enderby, all near the M1 Junction?  So all those cars, around 20,000 of them, going to shopping, leisure and business facilities near the M1 Junction will be gridlocking the outer ring road.  Good to see the Co-op are as familiar with Leicester as they are with sky larks.

The Co-operative Estates state, “We will introduce a charge for people leaving the ‘eco town’ by car at peak times in order to disincentivise car use and to encourage people to reassess their travel choices.  We will also explore the possibility of making key routes within the ‘eco town’ car free at peak times, both in the morning and evening peaks.”

Taxing people for driving to work is going to get them on buses, is it?  Or are people going to take advantage of flexible working and drive at non peak times?  Meanwhile those non key routes within the “eco town” are going to become rat runs.  Just how attractive a proposal is this?

The Co-operative Estates state, “We are proposing Park & Ride facilities which we think will be genuinely attractive.  For example, we are proposing that these should be ‘dry in dry out facilities’ which provide fully covered parking, possibly on several levels.  Buses would collect and return people direct to the parking point so that, if it was raining, people could stay dry and under cover at all times.  We are also investigating the option to provide convenience services, such as shopping and dry cleaning, at the parking point so that people can manage day-to-day errands easily and while catching the bus.  We may also persuade major retailers from the city centre to deliver goods for pick-up at the Park & Ride.”

That’ll be the major retailers from the city centre who don’t want the “eco town” because it’ll take investment away from the city centre regeneration, that will have a miraculous change of heart and serve the “eco town” then. 

Note the Co-op will consider weather-proofing the Park & Ride facilities but not the ordinary bus stops.  Is this a deliberate attempt to encourage people to use Park & Ride or ignorance?

Areas the Co-op needs to research and fast:-

• its own studies into the land at the proposed site (remember the Co-op own it, they’ve got no excuse for not understanding it).
• sky larks (the ones that are ground nesting) and existing wildlife at the site.
• human nature (prefers cars to buses, will turn side roads into rat runs if blocked from using certain routes at certain times of the day and doesn’t want the hassle of being tied to an inconvenient public transport timetable, likes shopping and leisure facilities and will drive to them if they are not nearby).

This transport plan is nothing more than an aspirational wishlist.  Ignoring the M1 link is not sensible or practical.  If new roads are to be built, the Co-op should say where and give local people who will be affected by these new roads a proper chance to consider their impact.

The initial consultation period ends next month.  I’m still waiting for details from the Co-operative Estates that prove they’ve thought this plan, researched the area and know what they are doing.  All the evidence so far points to this being badly-researched, badly-planned and nothing more than a money-making exercise that will have a huge negative impact on the area.  It should be rejected.

The strange case of The Co-operative Estates’ woodland and hedgerow nesting sky lark

The Co-operative Estates have been drip-feeding more information about their plans for Pennbury, the “Eco Town”, sorry “Eco Villages”, being planned for development in Leicestershire.

Mr Ramsbottom, head of land development for the Co-operative Estates says they are “starting with a blank canvas.”

That might be news to the:-

  • 42 badger setts
  • great 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)

already on-site. And still no word whatsoever from the Co-operative Estates about what they plan to do to protect the wildlife covered under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. This lack of information makes that “blank canvas” remark a large cause for concern.

The Co-operative Estates apparently are going to encourage the growth of hedgerows and woodland.

That sounds greenly aspirational, what possibly could be the objection? Simply this: in the 1990s the Co-operative Group ran a farming trial on the land where Pennbury will be built. It was discovered that the soil was too challenging for horticultural crops. So those hedgerows and woodlands are not going to happen.

Let’s see what else Mr Ramsbottom says, “woodland and hedgerows… will encourage the population growth of species including sky larks.”

That must be an extremely rare and very special brand new species of sky larks (have the Co-operative Group been running genetically modified bird experiments on the quiet?) if they are going to be nesting in woodlands and hedgerows. Sky larks are ground nesting birds and need agricultural land.

The government stipulated that only well-researched and planned “eco town” schemes would be shortlisted. The Co-operative Estate’s proposals for Pennbury need a serious re-think.

If the Co-operative Estates do not understand the wildlife they are attempting to encourage us to believe they are trying to promote, if the Co-operative Estates do not even understand the land they are earmarking for Pennbury, this scheme should be rejected. It should not even have been shortlisted.

“Pennbury is not going to be an ‘Eco Town'” – official

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.

Publicity how not to do it, Part 2: Pennbury “Eco Town”

Previously I suggested four lessons learnt from failed publicity campaigns:-

1. Respect your contacts.

2. Tailor publicity for contacts.

3. If you do misfire, don’t be afraid to apologise. Passing the buck = you don’t care.

4. Never acknowledge that you have more important clients/publicity projects. No one likes to feel they’ve been pushed to the back of a queue.

Now I’m going to suggest how to publicise a large project with an illustration of how not to do it.

1. Find out if similar projects have been launched before. If the public was negative and strongly objected, you’re not going to have an easy ride.

2. Find out what potential objections (threats) lie ahead. List them. Explain how you’ve addressed these objections.

3. Be contactable. Not necessarily in person but at least via a website.

4. Give details. Don’t hide your project behind positive sounding buzz words. People are wary of secrecy.

Let’s take Pennbury, the “Eco Town” project that bafflingly made the government’s short list. The Co-operative Group knew this project was going to be unpopular. They had already applied to build 5,000 houses on the site, a proposal that had been rejected on the grounds of lack of intrastructure, lack of sustainability and damage to wildlife and loss of green wedge. The Co-operative Group, therefore, knew that building 15,000 houses plus businesses, shops, community facitilities, etc was going to raise strong objections.  They even knew what those objections were. Has the Co-operative Group even attempted to address those objections? The public consultation period is open now. Where are the details?

The Chief Executive of Harborough District Council took the unusual step of publically complaining that they hadn’t been given any details. The consultation period ends on 30 June. The Co-operative Group have used press releases to talk about “carbon neutral housing”, “restrictions on car use”, “restricting households to one car”, “park and ride schemes”, “new station at Great Glen” but details? Where are they? Not one objection has been addressed.  Not one public query answered.

Only the Co-operative Group themselves are guilty of shrouding Pennbury in such secrecy, that no one can support it. In the process they’ve built a classic example of how not to win public support.

Pennbury “Eco Town” Shortlisted

Pennbury made the shortlist.

I’m trying out a few positives here as I know I’ve been negative about Pennbury generally.

Yes – I am in favour of building eco-homes.  Preferably on brownfield sites and recycling existing empty buildings where possible.

Yes – I am in favour of the principles behind eco-towns.

Yes – I am in favour of trying to meet the housing shortage.  And actually housing the homeless and vulnerably housed.

Yes – I know houses need to be affordable.  I can’t afford to buy a house in the small town I grew up in.

Yes – I am in favour of developments that include businesses and shops so residents don’t have to get in the car to buy a newspaper. 

Yes – I am in favour of developments that include public transport and maybe some disincentives against car use.  But restricting households to one car and limiting parking places outside shops isn’t practical, isn’t policeable and won’t work.  A household with a company car will always have a second car ‘in case’.  People will park on pavements if they can’t park on the road.

Yes – I am in favour of developments which include schools.  Even more so if public transport timetables, school opening and closing hours and job start and finish times can be co-ordinated so parents don’t have to resort to car use on the school run.  Know anywhere where this actually happens?

The Co-operative Group so far have confirmed:-

  1. 1 in 3 homes in Pennbury will be cheap enough for first time buyers or renters.
  2. Every child living in Pennbury will go to primary and secondary schools on-site.
  3. Energy will be sent to Pennbury via an existing windfarm and there will other energy projects on-site
  4. A public transport system will be developed in the town which could include a fast link via Gartree road.
  5. Pennbury would not affect the regeneration of Leicester City.

The problem with point 1 is that affordability isn’t just an issue for first time buyers or renters and if affordability is done via shared ownership, there are going to be problems when a householder with shared ownership wants to sell.  In any case who wants to live in a “cheap” house?

I take it that point 2 means the Co-operative Group will actually build the required number of schools and plan to expand them as necessary having accurately forecast the number of children living in Pennbury and the future birth rate.

I’ve already pointed out that Gartree Road won’t take the traffic.  The Co-operative Group may create a “fast link” from Pennbury to Gartree Road but those cars will be joining gridlock.

As regards point 5, does the Co-operative Group seriously believe that building 15,000 homes, community facilities and businesses will not affect the regeneration in Leicester City?  Regeneration which includes a major expansion to the main shopping mall, Highcross, a new cultural quarter, including Curve and other pipeline developments.  How will it guarantee that Pennbury won’t attract employers, businesses, shops that would otherwise be drawn to the city centre?  How will the Co-operative Group answer these two quotes, first from John Mugglestone and second from Roger Blackmore, councillors on the City Council:-

I think it’s a massive threat to the city of Leicester and so far we’ve had not consultation.  I think it’s the biggest threat to the city centre’s development since Junction 21.

The proposal, if it is allowed to go ahead, could have very severe consequences for Leicester City.

The next three months are a public consultation period.  We’re still waiting for the Co-operative Group to publish and consult on their plans for Pennbury.

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.

Saturday afternoon’s for Protesting

No to Pennbury Eco Town LeicestershireWhy 300 people took the trouble to spend part of Saturday morning meeting on a field within the proposed Pennbury “Eco Town” site to say no.

1. Are these houses needed?

Harborough Borough Council have already planned to build the 6,500 homes the government have alloted on brownfield sites. Leicester, like most cities, has already seen extensive conversion of commercial properties into luxury, contemporary apartments, new build developments to the north, current new builds in Kibworth, Scraptoft and expansions to Thorpe Astley and Hamilton have been agreed. Pennbury’s 15,000 houses are extra and no attempt has been made to demonstrate need. So that’s a no.

2. But aren’t Eco-Towns a good thing?

Eco-homes are a good thing. Using brownfield sites is a good thing. Phrases like “carbon neutral” sound good. But developments that aren’t needed and aren’t developed in sympathy with existing facilities and infrastructure are not a good thing. When brownfield sites are available, building on green wedge is not eco-friendly. In Pennbury’s case, this is a no.

3. Won’t Pennbury contribute to existing infrastructure?

Pennbury is being built between two A-roads that already suffer heavy traffic. The Co-operative Group have said Pennbury will have two park and ride sites (not exactly generous given the scale of the housing). Pennbury is supposed to include commercial and business premises so could theoretically be a self-contained development, but that assumes that people moving to Pennbury will also work there. Citing commercial sensitivity, the Co-operative Group are saying nothing further. This nothing further also covers community centres, doctors’ surgeries, dentists, libraries, etc. In the absence of definite information, the answer has to be no.

4. Will Pennbury include schools?

The villages along the A47 corridor (eg Thurnby, Bushby, Houghton on the Hill, Scraptoft, Tilton on the Hill, Billesdon, etc, etc) are in the Oadby schools catchment area. However, Pennbury will be built between the A47 corridor villages and Oadby. If the Oadby schools are oversubscribed, then, as Pennbury children are nearer, they will get priority, so where do the A47 corridor village children go? Whether Pennbury will include schools is subject to commercial sensitivity. So that’s a no too.

To summarise:

Are Pennbury’s houses needed? No.

Isn’t Pennbury “Eco Town” a Good Thing? No.

Won’t Pennbury contribute to existing infrastructure? No.

Will Pennbury include schools? No.

Nimby-ism is a lazy criticism of anyone who objects to housing developments. But objection to Pennbury isn’t nimby-ism (it’s not in my back yard for a start), it’s a sensible reaction to the lack of information, the pressure on existing infrastructure and the negative impact the so-called “Eco Town” will have on local environment. No to Pennbury.

Pennbury: the “Eco Town” that isn’t

Brief update and I’ll try not to rant. The Leicester Mercury managed to get hold of a leaked copy of the Co-operative Group’s plans for Pennbury “Eco Town”. To quote the newspaper:-

“The classified details, which were unknown until today, include plans for two new park-and-ride sites.

“One would be on the A47 close to Houghton on the Hill, and the other would be close to the A6 – on the eastern edge of Oadby. A bus terminal serving public transport going in and out of Leicester is also planned on the Roman Gartree Road – which would have to be rebuilt and widened.

“These would all be linked by new roads into the centre of the town, formerly the airport site, proposed by the Co-op and English Partnerships.

“Protected land where Great Glen’s mediaeval village used to be will not be built on, but will be incorporated into the project. The site for a railway station serving trains to Leicester and London is also plotted just south of Great Glen.

“The map has been shown only to a handful of MPs and senior council members.”

Just why have the Co-operative Group kept so quiet about this? Surely this is a missed opportunity to get the public on their side and provide reassurances about the impact building 15,000 homes on a green wedge would have? Instead they cite “ensuring the ideas were not stolen by rival bidders”, knowing full well that if they get the go-ahead, they will only be answerable to the Planning Commission Quango, not to local authorities.

I still don’t see any answers to public questions (including ones from children and they’re the ones who are going to have to live around it), there’s no mention of schools and they’ve not said what they’re going to do about the Aero Club’s lease of the airport which still has 14 years to run.