Sunday, July 06, 2008

Weston Otmoor eco-town

There has been so much about government eco-towns lately and one is unfortunately quite near me.

The whole concept is a bit misleading, the cynical part of me things that the government identified new towns as a possible solution to the housing shortage but realised that a simple 'new town' concept would never be accepted by the general public. That kind of idea is just so 1960's. So anyway bring in the bright spark consultant being paid far too much money who says I know lets make it green, some kind of energy efficient, public transport utopia. If you objected to that kind of thing you must be mad.

Hence just as labour became new labour so new town became eco-town.

Anyway the developer who is really only in it to make money has started off the public relations war. The consultants who drew up the websites and the initial consultation paperwork have so much spin they should work for a washing machine company.

Before we continue I would like to first outline my position on eco-towns. I think the concept of a new town is wrong, we don't need new towns we need to expand and revitalise old towns and villages. If I had to call my concept a reality it would be eco-estates or eco-villages. There are lots of existing towns and villages in prime locations which could be expanded sensitively to improve the local area without overwhelming it.

I agree wholeheartedly with the "eco" concept but I think these develops underestimate the lure of the car. However good the public transport network is people will always use the car, especially in places like Oxfordshire.

Now to deal with the Weston Otmoor design and feasibility.

1. Location

An eco town placed at a major motorway junction. If it really is supposed to encourage you not to drive how is that going to work. You would be 2 minutes drive from the motorway / A34 which would give you the best road connections in the entire of Oxfordshire (even if it would be a slow moving car park). How does this encourage people to use public transport?

The access toll road to the town may encourage people to leave the car at home but it does depend on how high the toll is and whether it outweighs the benefits of taking the car. This will not affect people who commute to London.

On their website the developer happily say that only 6.5% of the land is on green belt which allegedly busts a myth that green fields will be carpeted with concrete. Hmmm, that may be strictly true because over half of the development would be on an airfield which is probably class as industrial land. However the airfield is a grass airfield used for parachute drops, it is not a major international hub and it is a very green field.

The design allows for a nice High street just off the A34. Nice, I think I will be getting into my car and driving to Oxford or Milton Keynes.

2. Transport

One of the big things they are pushing is the tram network with a stop only 300m from your door, although your car will only be 10m from your door and ready to go when you are.

The East West rail link will be rebuilt allowing high speed train access to London, Oxford and Milton Keynes. Again with high speed access you could live their and work in London.

3. Industry

They will be able to attract some industry to the eco town. Probably either office or commercial space or research industries who like the proximity to the university and other research sites in Oxford.

However there is no need for these to be sited here, you could equally and more sustainably build these in several locations around Oxfordshire. There are already new plans to build a business park in Bicester.

4. The Consultation questionnaire.

I think this questionnaire might have loaded questions, even though you can tell I strongly disagree with most details of the eco-town idea it turns out that out of 12 questions I strongly agree with 9 of them. Funny that.


My concept would be the eco estates or the eco extensions. In terms of location the 15000 houses would be spread round the county. There possibly is scope for a smaller development around Weston-on-the-green. Other developments could be centred around existing small towns and villages. West Oxfordshire is prime for developing especially around the Oxford to Worcester railway line. Other locations could include Bicester, Banbury and Didcot. There would also be scope for major extensions along the east west rail route particularly in the Bicester, Aylesbury and Milton Keynes triangle.


The concept is fairly flawed but not completely without merit in some better locations it may even work.

However to suggest that 35,000 people can be put right next to the best connected road junction in Oxfordshire with access to the capital by rail will turn into a flourishing non car using town is naive. Weston Otmoor will turn into a dormitory town with just as much car use as everywhere else.

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