Both items below reproduced from Private Eye No. 1216 8 Aug 2008. Copyright © 2008.
Fact or friction?
More on Weston Otmoor in Oxfordshire, where developer Parkridge says it wants to build a 15,000 home eco-town (Rotten Boroughs, Eye 1214).
Otmoor was the setting for Lewis Caroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, its "chequerboard" landscape supposedly the inspiration for the giant chessboard in Through the Looking Glass. No wonder Parkridge's plans, particularly for transport, are so fantastical.
Oxfordshire County and Cherwell District councils are scathing, describing the plans as "aspirational in the extreme". Not only are funds said to be "significantly short", but according to a joint council report, promises have been made that "cannot be kept". So far, so bad.
Take the plan to reactivate the Oxford - Milton Keynes railway line to take shiny new double decker trains. To do so, Oxford and Milton Keynes stations would have to be rebuilt because the platforms are not long enough, and many bridges would have to be raised. In Bicester, the one level crossing would be down for up to half the time, while residents of Weston Otmoor, aka Wotmoor, would be penned in by a toll charge on the one road in and out of the town.
Parkridge say that one of the most important buildings in the new town will be the railway station and during the day five trains an hour are promised in both directions, with Oxford reachable in just six minutes and Milton Keynes in 30. London would be an hour away. Yeah, right. Somehow these projected timings are much better than current fastest times.
While Parkridge suggests this new iron railroad will carry up to 5,000 people and hour, critics say the £150m allocated to double track the line is "woefully inadequate". Double that figure might be more accurate. But who will pay the running costs as "Wotmoor" residents have been promised free travel for life? Answer cam there none.
Around "Wotmoor" Parkridge promises that trams will deliver residents to their doors and on to Oxford and Bicester. Inside Wotmoor there will be trams every 90 seconds all day and night and four per hour to Oxford using that rebuilt railway. The future fantasy is that trams may go on to Cowley and even Didcot. And all for £25m with no fares collected from residents!
The promise that the 35,000-plus residents will enjoy free public transport to and from Oxford and Bicester and maybe even to London - at a cost, according to Parkridge of just £5m - also sounds too good to be true because it most likely is too good to be true. Credulity is also stretched by the promise of a park and ride at Wotmoor for up to 5,000 resident's cars and 6,000 others. Currently there are spaces for around 5,000 cars in all the Oxford P&R's put together. Through doubling potential commuter numbers, Parkridge says its P&R will somehow "reduce" the strain on the already bust junction nine of the M40 and the A34 to Oxford - a leap of the imagination that would defy even the Rev. Dodgson.
Is it possible that Wonderland, sorry Wotmoor, is just some kind of smokescreen? A new "town" near a motorway junction would be the ideal site for a logistics/ HGV hub for the Midlands and South of England. And funnily enough the majority shareholder in Parkridge is ProLogis - a US freight company and " the world's largest owner, manager and developer of distribution facilities". Using Wotmoor eco-town as a Trojan horse to build a giant warehouse and lorry park is one idea that doesn't sound completely fantastical ...
Poor Caroline Flint. The Housing Minister has been left to carry the can for Gordo's ridiculous eco-town scheme, which is collapsing around their ears.
Five of the shortlisted 15 towns have withdrawn from the scheme or are about to. The shires are up in arms and the Tories no longer support it. It's a dead or dying duck.
Flint has been reduced to going round the country "consulting" the communities that are about to have eco-towns dropped on them. At Long Marston in Warwickshire she was booed, so when she went to Weston Otmoor (or "Wotmoor" - see p.27 for just how "eco" this town will be) last Thursday she took no chances. The locals in nearby Weston-on-the-Green are well organised, led by Tim Henman's dad Tony, so Flint simply drove through the village in her ministerial car without getting out to see the lie of the land.
No visit to the New Town site either. Her "consultation" instead took place in some quiet (and secure) council offices in Bicester a full seven miles away. Perhaps she was hoping not to hear the shouts of protestors? Some hope.