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RSPB condemns Weston Otmoor 'Eco' Town' plan

Last modified: 03 July 2008

Marbled white butterfly, Cambridgeshire

Marbled white butterflies - under threat

Plans to build an ‘Eco-town’ of 15,000 houses at Weston Otmoor, north of Oxford, have been slammed by Europe’s largest conservation charity, the RSPB.

The charity has slated the plans, which threaten the Wendlebury Meads and Mansmoor Closes Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and would destroy BBOWT’s Woodsides Meadow nature reserve in the process.

Both sites are sensitive meadows rich in orchids, wild flowers and grasses, butterflies, moths and birds.

A serious threat

Colin Wilkinson, RSPB planning officer, said: ‘Our view on the Weston Otmoor eco-town is unequivocal: this site should be dropped now from the government’s short-list.

‘The Weston Otmoor proposal is a serious threat to one of Britain’s natural jewels, a designated wildlife site bursting with unusual flora that is supposed to be protected from damage.

‘We are not convinced that any settlement that has potential problems with transport merits the label of ‘eco-town’

‘Even if the developers could avoid destroying a whole section of this grassland by altering their development’s footprint, they cannot avoid inflicting human disturbance and changing the water table of this sensitive wildlife haven.’

The RSPB’s detailed response to all fifteen of the short-listed eco-town proposals highlights serious flaws in the process the government is following and raises urgent questions over the environmental credentials of most of the proposals.

Mr Wilkinson added: ‘Most of the sites, including Weston Otmoor, raise significant transport issues.

‘The government’s own experts on the Eco-town Challenge Panel have stressed the need to reduce carbon emissions by 80-90%. Sites need to set out a clear transport strategy that reduces private car use.

‘We are not convinced that any settlement that has potential problems with transport merits the label of ‘eco-town’.’

Potential to be remarkable

A number of the eco-town locations concern the charity and it is disappointed with the overall sustainability of the proposals, particularly reducing people’s need to travel.

In spite of these concerns, the RSPB still supports the concept of eco-towns.

Mr Wilkinson explained why: ‘In the right place and with sufficient commitment from the government, developers and local authorities, eco-towns could be remarkable examples of how we can create developments that help the environment.

‘The RSPB has put forward many positive suggestions to improve the quality of eco-towns in our response to this consultation. We invite the government and the successful developers to act on these ideas.

‘In particular, we warmly welcome the government’s aims for achieving high standards of ‘Green Infrastructure’ – new green space rich in wildlife – but the critical issue will be to plan for it and fund it properly.’

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