A model village

There are efforts everywhere to attain something called “sustainability”, particularly environmental “sustainability”. There are all kinds of schemes to make us all greener.  Governments have latched on to what they see as a popular (vote generating) trend and are determined to get involved, incited by green activists and extremists. Instead of letting impractical plans in the mix get winnowed out by their citizens’ innate commons sense in the market of viable ideas, governments have to meddle. We see some of this from our own  municipal administration and we see the seeds of it in provincial and federal programs. Just imagine if these efforts had the full weight of the national treasury behind them.

Perhaps our government would  announce favoured locations which would become “eco-towns”, carbon neutral settlements with sustainably powered homes and given “impeccable green credentials” to encourage citizens to move in.

Car journeys would be curtailed by a 15mph speed limit. Bath water would be recycled and fed to communal flowerbeds. Each home would pump excess power generated by its solar panels and turbines back into the National Grid. It all sounded very worthy….

Doesn’t it? We have a feeling that some Wolfvillians would think this  paradise. Perhaps you have already guessed that such a utopian plan is being tried – in the land of nuttiness the  UK. Strangely [or perhaps not] some of the townspeople to be “favoured” by the plan were not happy with it. Their answer to the housing minister’s [Caroline Flint] cry of  “We will revolutionise the way people live” was to say the Brit equivalent of  – “No way Jose” .

It sounded more like Nineteen Eighty-Four than the dawn of a green revolution. New developments, given a lick of green paint, could be forced onto towns like Ford, where similar projects would previously have been rejected. The word “eco” would make residents feel guilty if they voiced opposition. It would allow the Government to feel smug about its environmental friendliness, and to steamroller its developments through. Wrap something in green recycled paper and you’ll get away with anything. But Flint hadn’t reckoned on the power of local feeling.

The projects would gobble up existing green-space and productive agricultural land and was ill-conceived since the rural communities “chosen” lacked the necessary transportation infrastructure or employment environment to support high density developments which the eco-towns of necessity were to be. The residents of Ford village fought back.

At first, it seemed there was little anyone could do. Residents had just two months, to the end of June 2008, to register their opposition. The parish council in neighbouring Yapton agreed to carry an article in its monthly magazine – and that was it.

If David was going to beat Goliath, the locals had to be stirred into action

Does this remind anyone just a little of issues in Wolfville and in the Valley?

So the locals got a campaign [Communities against Ford eco-town] and petitions and a website going; they mobilised their supporters and butressed their arguments with research.

Across the country, other anti-eco town groups were being formed, garnering support from the likes of Dame Judi Dench, actor John Nettles and Tim Henman’s father, John. Lord Rogers, the Labour peer and architect, warned that such developments could divide communities and become the “eco slums of the future”.

Eco slums of the future“. That has a certain ring to it.

The reaction from government was perhaps typical?

Caroline Flint was invited to Ford. She appeared so fleetingly that she left her car running outside Yapton town hall, which was hardly very green. Locals were astonished by her attitude. She was dismissive and uninterested, and criticised us for being too “organised and educated”.

Too organised and educated!. [That’s a change from unfair, inappropriate and uneducated but somehow we think it is the same dismissive attitude.]

In the end the villagers of Ford triumphed and the government scaled back their plans, sparing Ford and some other villages but going still going ahead in four towns. NIMBY you say? No, common sense. These are sensible people who are sympathetic to reasonable environmentalism. As Ben Fogle, the author of the article quoted and a CAFE campaigner said:

We have an affordable housing deficit in this country. I am no politician and am sure the Government already has enough advisers. But with an estimated 617,000 empty properties in England alone, why isn’t the Government redeveloping these? And why is it not looking towards redeveloping neglected suburbs, providing housing where it’s needed and creating a green template for carbon-neutral neighbourhoods instead? Failing that, spend the money insulating every house in Britain.

It doesn’t take a junket to Sussex to learn from the village of Ford.

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