There’s no point bulding tokenistic, half-baked fake communities for New Labour clones while we’re still wedded to motorways, airports and superstores
Make every town an eco-town
The news isn’t all bad. Only four of the wretched New Labour eco-towns have been given the go-ahead. These are Rackheath in Norfolk, north-west Bicester in Oxfordshire, Whitehill-Bordon in east Hampshire and the “China Clay Community”, Cornwall. The last, I imagine, must be home to families of funny little pottery people: cousins, perhaps, of the Woodentops or Camberwick Green Communities.
I still have no idea what a “community” is, although the word is bandied about promiscuously by News at Ten reporters, quango folk and even newspaper columnists. Whenever I hear the word, I think of late-flowering hippies wilting in benders somewhere in the West Country, rather than architect-designed “eco” homes.
From what I can make out, though, the denizens of the four proposed eco-towns are happy to be the first of a new generation of New Labour clones, with every last drop of petrol metered as they whisk their Toyota Priuses along the blacktop in search of the eco-jobs that their eco-towns will be unable to provide.
Will anyone living in an eco-town be fined for sneaking off to a supermarket or one of Britain’s proliferating New Jersey-style retail strips stretching around an A-road intersection near you?
I don’t know. What I do know is that while the eco-towns wobble into being, the very same authoritarian government that imposed them will continue to justify new runways at major airports, new motorways, any number of conventional — that is, environmentally unfriendly — housing estates, and car-choked, wasteful supermarkets that make a mockery of the eco-towns initiative.
Why not just say no to unsustainable development aimed at pandering to our insatiable greed, whether we be consumers, shareholders or company directors, and, in doing so, encourage a more genuinely sustainable landscape and society? We wouldn’t need the eco-town initiative if we did so, because every town would have the chance of being an “eco-town” without having to make a folk song and Morris dance about it.
It does seem crazy that one of the greatest recent successes for environmentalism has been that of the protesters who fought eco-town proposals threatening to destroy fecund agricultural land, wildlife, natural beauty, and collective self-esteem. What Richard Rogers has spoken of as the “eco-slums of the future” have been held at bay not by wholly self-interested “nimbys”, but by people who care about our collective future, with no time for “greenwash” and thuggish ministers.
Ford in West Sussex and Weston-on-the-Green, Oxfordshire are among the lucky places in England to have been reprieved from the eco-town menace. Now, one hopes they can develop naturally and intelligently, without being bullied by a government keener on airports, big business and bigger shops than in true quality of life.
Jonathan Glancey is architecture critic of the Guardian.