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Whitehill, Bordon - An Eco-town?

by John Venning

I once knew a man who made his living buying and selling almost anything old, from bits of ships' timbers to masonry urns and dragons, to complete staircases. His operations, which were wide-ranging, were based somewhere in County Cork and the name of the enterprise was Haphazard Trading. What he loved doing most of all was recreating something wonderful out of discarded bits and pieces. When I knew him, he was restoring a traditional Irish fishing boat, a Galwey Hooker: bringing an abandoned vessel back to purposeful life. I thought that might be a metaphor for urban regeneration; whether it can apply to Whitehill Bordon remains to be seen.

Through much of the twentieth century Whitehill/Bordon has had to struggle with the haphazard ebb and flow of development, military necessities, motor traffi c and the like. Now the Army, which has shaped the place for over 100 years, is moving out, leaving 250 hectares of land, much of it already built on. Local people and the local authorities, quite rightly, see this as an opportunity to put right the lack of facilities, jobs and other infrastructure from which the town has so long suffered. Long before anyone had heard of eco-towns, they embraced a 'Green Vision' for the future of their town.

Area map - Bordon Whitehill
The areas of pink show MOD land. The surrounding green hatched areas show the Special Protection Areas and Areas of Conservation.

At first sight, the government's eco-towns initiative seemed to offer an opportunity to make this vision a reality. The snag is that in order to qualify for eco-town status, there have to be at least 5,000 new houses, which is many more than was at fi rst envisaged. A great deal will depend on what can be done to make sure the new development does not harm the surrounding countryside and villages, all of which are special and some very special indeed. That will take some doing and it is why CPRE Hampshire has given its support to the proposal only on condition that it can be done right. In particular, we are arguing that unless it can be shown that the 5,500 houses proposed will not harm the environment, the number of new houses should be reduced and consideration be given to replacing some of the existing stock of houses with more environmentally-friendly ones.

As we see it, the most difficult problem to overcome may be to design a transport infrastructure that will enable people to get to work or the shops, go to school, visit the doctor or to wherever they want to play, without using cars. Re-routing the road will help make the town more agreeable but something much more radical will be needed. We are strongly in favour of the suggestion of a tram-train link to both the London railway lines. It will also be necessary to make sure there are enough jobs reachable by bike or on foot and that they are available as the town begins to grow, so that newcomers will not need retraining into greener habits, which rarely works! Innovation and ingenuity will be required in large doses if the town is truly to be carbon-neutral.

Then there is the surrounding countryside, which is glorious, gives the town a ravishing setting and is, like many places where the army has held sway over the years, full of rare, interesting and valuable species. Some of these, as you can see from the map, are of National and some of European importance. Rightly, they are protected by fi erce legislation, which simply cannot be ignored. The designated South Downs National Park will come right up to the edge of the area. There will have to be close scrutiny of the plans through statutory Habitat and Environmental Impact assessments. Only if they give the right answer can the development go ahead.

The next stage is the publication of the draft master-plan, which is being worked on as we go to press. We shall study it with great care and interest.

May 2009

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