A proposed eco town on a disused airfield would create up to 5,000 homes. However, the scheme for Ford, near Arundel, cannot go ahead because it "would cause the local infrastructure to crumble", according to MPs and councillors. ANDY ROBBINS reports.
The proposal for a new eco town at Ford airfield is the latest attempt by the Government to curb the country's affordable housing crisis.
Up to 5,000 environmentally friendly homes have been promised by the Ford Airfield Vision Group if the scheme is chosen as one of ten towns to be built by 2020.
However, the scheme has not gone down well with leaders at Arun District Council and MPs who claim the Government is trying to bypass the planning system with a development that would cause the local infrastructure to crumble.
Nick Herbert, MP for Arundel and South Downs, is one of the most high profile campaigners against the proposals.
He admits the housing shortage is a problem but said building on the flood plain was a mistake.
He said: "I do think that we need more housing to help young people get a foot on the property ladder but this is the wrong way to do it.
"It will subvert the local planning process and will take the decision out of the hands of the council which was democratically elected.
"The council had already ruled out building on the Ford flood plain and we have heard so much from people telling us why it is wrong to build on flood plains.
"I also don't see how we can talk about increasing housing numbers at the scale proposed while downgrading hospitals. We need to realise there will not be enough money to fund sufficient new infrastructure.
"We do need to look at how we can get more affordable housing but it has to be sustainable housing.
There is nothing eco-friendly about an eco town in Ford."
Mr Herbert aims to take the issue to the House of Commons along with fellow MP Nick Gibb.
The Conservative MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton said the Government's proposal for Ford airfield was undemocratic.
He said: "Arun District Council has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds investigating where in the district we can can find space for the houses that the Government already want us to find.
"Masses of resources have already gone into that and it has shown that the area around Ford is not suitable. The Government proposals ignore all the research that has been done.
"All of this is driven by the Government wanting more housing in the South East.
"But it would bring the infrastructure of the area to a complete halt. The roads simply wouldn't be able to cope with the increase in traffic and people.
"The Government says it would provide funding to deal with this problem, but the money is never adequate for what would be needed."
He said two requests for meetings with Government ministers to discuss the proposal had so far fallen on deaf ears.
Mr Gibb said: "We find this totally unacceptable. They can't turn down a meeting with the MPs for the very area which these plans would affect. We are interested in what is right for the area, and this isn't.
"We have this well thought-out system for planning but the Government is simply bypassing that.
The plan for 5,000 low-carbon homes, along with a railway station and business park, has also been criticised by Arun District Council's cabinet member for planning.
Councillor Richard Bower said: "The main problem is that this proposal is trying to divert from the planning system.
"We already have to build 9,600 homes by 2020 under the South East Plan and a further 2,000 have now been added on top of that. For someone to suggest an eco town with 5,000 more homes over and above what has already been outlined in the South East Plan is crazy.
"We already have a severe infrastructure deficit in Arun with no substantial investment in roads in the last 15 to 20 years.
"To claim the eco town could provide two primary schools, a secondary school, a library and other services beggars belief.
"If this proposal went ahead we would choke because our existing roads simply would not be able to cope.
"We have met with the two MPs to discuss the situation and they both clearly support our argument against the eco town.
"I have nothing against the idea of eco towns but the South East Plan requires urban extension rather than brand new settlements, which this would be."
The Campaign to Protect Rural England has joined the calls for the Government to throw out its attempt to transform Ford airfield.
Campaigners must now wait to see if the scheme is one of 20 eco towns named on a shortlist in the next few weeks, before it is reduced to ten firm proposals.
A spokesman from the Department for Communities and Local Government said he could not comment on specific locations.
He said: "Eco towns offer a real opportunity to revolutionise the way we plan and deliver homes, radically changing the way people travel, work and live.
"These leading-edge communities will provide the homes young families and first-time buyers desperately need while protecting and enhancing the environment.
"There is a rigorous process for the selection of bids and only the best will succeed.
"They must meet tough tests, proving they make best use of brownfield land, safeguard local wildlife and habitat areas and provide low and zero-carbon technologies and good public transport systems."
Is the scheme right for Ford?