Eco Towns: a green oasis or a mirage?

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Are those “Eco Towns” that have been proposed by the previous UK administration a knight in shining armor or are they but misguided desperation? As far as I am concerned, and I am not the only one, they are not the answer to the problem in the way that they have been proposed. Mind you, it must be said that ever since the Con-Lib coalition is running the affairs no one really seems to be talking about those developments anymore. I haven't heard anything of them ever since then.

I must admit that I am not a house builder, a banker or an energy magnate. I am neither a property developer, a broker or an oil buyer. Nor did I benefit from the last umpteen years of house price rising, simply because I have never owned a house, and have been renting always. Nor have I, so far, inherited a house from someone (anyone out there who wants to leave me one in their will?). Also, I have never every even gone down the line of changing my energy supplier to get a better deal and a lower rate. I might get tempted if one came along that would be truly green, so to speak, but so far all I have seen is hype and lies, such as from N-Power. I also do not really have to worry, personally, as to the cost of gasoline or diesel as I do not own nor drive a motor vehicle of any kind.

Perhaps in these turbulent times of ours there is a shining knight on the horizon? Is he not right now approaching on his horse? Look it is Sir "Eco Town", the savior of us all. So, at least, we are lead to believe, here in the UK.

"Eco" - what an interesting word. But who really knows what it means exactly? Is it environmentally friendly? Is it fair trade? Is it the new "green"? Is it more than "green"? Is it all of the above? I personally do not really know even despite the fact that I write on “green” issues, and neither, I am sure, do most people. And I am not even sure that the government knows either. At times “eco” seems to be a fashionable term that can be strapped to any concept or plan with the immediate effect of breathing new life and viability in to it., whether or not it can do anything really. Much like the “Eco Button”, the ever so highly praised and hyped tool to reduce your PC's “carbon footprint” (oh, how I hate that word). Let's stop calling it “carbon footprint” and incorporate all the ills and call it “environmental footprint” for it is not just CO2 and carbon that is the issue. But, because carbon has become tradeable we are talking carbon and carbon footprint and carbon credits (indulgences) all the time.

How fast are Eco Towns coming to our rescue? Well, not all that fast at all. The first of them, if we are lucky, will be ready in 4-6 years, but knowing how any projects end up in this country it is more like 6-10 years, I should think. Aside from everything else, those “Eco Towns” are going to need an awful of a lot of energy to bring them into being. In addition to that we all will have to buy into the concept for it to work; we have to buy those houses in those “Eco-towns” and move in.

So, once those much-praised “Eco-towns” are built then what do we do? Are we to desert our existing towns and all move into Eco-towns? What good will they be when we have Eco-towns? How will we all cook our tea and whatever in boring old normal town? What about all the old roads, shops, internet cables, phones, sewers, drains, water pipes, electric cables, central heating systems, high streets, the rest of the infrastructure and all that – I do not think that I need to go on? What about all of that and everything else?

First of how many of those “Eco-towns” are there being built? Will it be a chosen 50,000, or whatever the small number may be, who get to live in Eco-town luxury whilst the rest of us all will have to tough it out outside the walls? I suppose these Eco-towns will also be immune to the tempestuous markets? All the food, energy and shelter comfortably catered for within the confines of those gated communities?

The “Eco-Towns” are, the way I see it, nothing but another gimmick of the Labor government. Another silly idea to make themselves look “green” and I sincerely hope that David Cameron and the coalition will put this ill conceived baby to rest.

Let us “green” our existing villages, towns and cities and through empowerment regain a sense of community and more than just a sense of... let us, in fact, go a create community, real community. In addition to that permit those that want, with their own hands, build real proper eco-villages do so; eco-settlements like Tinker's Bubble and others, and give them permanent status. That is how we can green our communities and our country; not with new built Eco Town.

Before the elections in 2010 the then opposition, the Tories and the Whigs (Lib-Dems), pointed out that if 1 in 3 houses were retrofitted with micro-generation and the energy market decentralised we would not need the nuclear power stations. Now, however, they are advocating the building of more nuclear power plant with the mantra that unless we have got those dangerous ways of generating energy we will not meed the targets and also the lights will go out. Now that is utter bull dust, and they know it.

The idea of decentralization of the energy market does strike a chord with me as empowerment is the fastest way to enable a group – in this case a country – to achieve anything. It also strikes a chord with me as I have been advocating, ever since it made sense to me after reading “Small is Beautiful” just that, namely, small decentralized power generation plants but everyone I have ever spoken to in the field of energy production and government just benignly smiled at me as if I was an imbecile for suggesting that.

Micro-generation and decentralized energy production is, in my opinion, the only way forward. Neither oil, gas or coal, and not even nuclear – unless we can go down the fusion route – will help us. The infrastructure also if way too vulnerable. Local generated heat and power, however, does not suffer from those problems.

The building in of resilience to our communities is what we must do. We must look to build communities that will smooth the transition from an oil dependant community to an alternative form of energy, all the while seeking to drastically reduce the amount of CO2 in response to the changing climate.

And there is also more than one problem that I have with those “Eco-Towns” a-la previous Labor (now there is a joke) government of Britain (and here is yet another of those joke – government, as they couldn't govern a school let alone a country), but one especially, and that is the fact that, according, so they would like everyone to believe, the Freiburg model, about 1/2 of the residents in such “Eco-Towns” will nor be PERMITTED to own a car. Duh? They were and are going to order and compel one half of the residents – which half precisely – that they cannot and must not and will not be allowed to own a car? Welcome to 1984. A little late, I know, but arrived it has. The lie also lies in them claiming it to be according to the Freiburg model: in Freiburg it is more than 50% who have chosen – CHOSEN by their own free will – not to want to have a car. Slight difference, is it not. Freely chosen not to have a car or being told you cannot have a car and will not be allowed to have a car. Now, I do not own or drive a car and as a cyclist I would be happy to have a few cars less on the road but... to my dying day I will defend anyone's right to own a car if they so wish.

While it may not be a fundamental human right and necessity to own a car it, nevertheless, everyone should have the choice to do so if they wish and have the funds to do so and the “fuel” to run it.

As said, I would be more than happy if we would get rid of the infernal combustion engine motorcar but I will fight against any and all legislation making it unlawful to own one. But that is besides the point at present here.

So, how are we going to mobilise and motivate our communities to vacate their current abodes for pastures greener (or rather "eco") next door without a sense of community? It is community that makes up a village, a town, a neighborhood. What if community could regain itself in situ and can, in fact, "eco" and “green” the existing towns? What is to say that we cannot build resilient sustainability in to our existing neighborhoods without involving the oil intensive construction of yet more estates, and towns, even though those may be “eco” ones?

Personally, I do not think that we need the fabled “Eco Towns”. Instead, what we need are empowered villages, towns and city neighbourhoods; real communities of people of all types, ages and classes.

I think that, rather than even thinking about those gimmick towns, those so-called “Eco-towns”, for that is all that those are, gimmicks, we should, nay we must, “green” our existing villages, towns, city neighborhoods, and create real local green communities in the existing places that there are currently. There is NO NEED whatsoever for such “Eco-towns”. They are neither a “green oasis” nor a “knight in shining armor”. They are, in fact, a waste of time and money.

If we go down the road proposed by the Labor administration and which still seems to exist though no one talks about it much anymore, namely that of constructing such “Eco-towns”, we – one – will be wasting lots of money and especially energy and resources and – two – the possibility of using such monies in regenerating our existing villages and towns, our existing neighborhood and “green” those. It can be done, and more than likely a lot easier and a lot better than building those new towns.

Also, why are people not being invited to build those towns and villages with their own hands in the way of owner-build homes, as is common everywhere else in Europe? Why has the construction been carried out Legoland style by Barrats the Builders (and one or two other companies) instead?

I tell you why... because someone gets a nice little earner from all the contracts that are awarded to the building companies. So much appears to be clear.

About turn! That is what we must do and green our existing housing stock and general building stock, including offices, shops and factories, and make our cities, towns and villages into liveable, vibrant, green communities.

© 2011