On the Politics Show, Sunday 24 February 2008, Jon Sopel interviewed Caroline Flint, Minister for Housing
JON SOPEL: Caroline Flint, welcome to the Politics Show. Thank you very much for being with us. How are you going to convince people like that.
CAROLINE FLINT: Well, first of all I should say this, we've had something like over fifty bids er, most of those will fall by the wayside, I'll be blunt about it. The next stage is that we'll have a short-list of maybe around fifteen, which they'll be further consultation on; we've involving organizations such as the environment agency, natural England and many others, to test these bids out and then the final stage I suppose, is when we get down to those ten later on this year, which will then be subject to the full planning process at a local level, so there's going to be plenty of opportunity for these bids to be scrutinized both by national organizations but also local people on the ground. But the big challenge here is how do we provide more homes for people who want them and I think there is a recognition that we need more homes. But can we do it in a way that thinks about homes but a wider community interest of schools health centres, public transport and of course being greener for the future.
JON SOPEL: Okay, you're saying ten eco towns. What happens if there are eighteen brilliant applications or on the other hand, that you only think that five of them are good. Is ten what it's going to be or is there a ceiling or a floor to use maybe not an appropriate metaphor.
CAROLINE FLINT: Well our ambition is for around ten but we're going through a scrutiny process that I think er, demonstrates and will become clearer over the months ahead about what exacting conditions we're asking for. We're asking for zero carbon communities, we're asking for communities where public transport can be much more of an integrated feature than ever before. We're also talking about infrastructure.
Many people in the past have complained about where more homes are built but not much thought given to health centres and schools and that has to be factored in to the bids too and clearly, the opportunity is well within these communities, to see how we can enhance green space that already exists but also create more green space to protect habitats for the future too.
So it is very exciting and I really do believe that as we go through this process that there is more, er, er, scrutiny of the bids that have come in and certainly the next round which will, to be honest, as I said before, get rid of most of the bids and leave us with around fifteen that we might think have got the potential to move on to the final stage. I think there's going to be a real great oppor, (fluffs), opportunity here for lots of different organizations who are concerned about how we can live in a more sustainable way in the future to demonstrate what could be best practice, not just in this country but world-wide.
JON SOPEL: Very exciting prospect. A lot of people, very concerned. I just want to rattle through a few specifics if I might. On the planning, who will have the ultimate say. We heard in the film there, the head of Market Harborough Council say, this one is going through central government and coming down to us and it could be a fait accompli. True or false?
CAROLINE FLINT: It's certainly not er, it's not a fait accompli. Part of the reason why we've er initiated er, the eco towns at a national level is because we want some of those national organizations such as an environment agency, er natural England, who have been helping government departments to sift through the over fifty applications we've had so far, to make sure that they're fit for purpose before they go on to the further stage.
JON SOPEL: But they're not directly elected bodies.
CAROLINE FLINT: Ultimately this will - they are bodies who have a
JON SOPEL: Not directly elected
CAROLINE FLINT: they are bodies. Jon, if I could finish what I'm saying. They are bodies who have a keen interest in sustainability and a greener pleasanter environment. Now, having gone through that sifting process, the next stage will be even more scrutiny er, when we get to the next short list which I'll be announcing soon, but finally, the final ten will have to be subject to planning permission at the local level and all the rules that apply to any development will apply at that stage.
But part of this dynamic is really to get the developers who are interested in providing for eco towns to demonstrate what they have got to offer in a very public and transparent way but also to ratchet up the best possible standards we should expect. But ultimately, er, this will be subject to local planning to decision, and local authorities involvement, but I think our engagement on this exciting, I think, adventure, is to really create a national debate about what is possible because these eco towns will not only provide for local communities, they'll be a show case of what is possible nationally but also internationally.
JON SOPEL: Right, what about the argument that goes, that actually they're not that green at all because if you site an eco town twenty five miles away from a city or main centre of employment, that what happens is that the town itself might be eco but you've got people commuting twenty five miles to and from work every day.
CAROLINE FLINT: And that is exactly why eco towns are more than just homes for people, important though that is, they do have to demonstrate how they will provide for public transport, how it will be both a living community but also a working community as well and in some respects, these towns will give the opportunity to enhance local public transport needs in a way that hasn't been possible before.
So the emphasis on homes is one part of this and certainly affordable housing within that. But also too, is the infrastructure that makes a community a real community. But also within that, how these eco towns will fit in relation to other settlements nearby.
JON SOPEL: Okay. Also there's a suspicion that developers, and if I was a developer, I've just had my planning application rejected for a new town, I dress it up in a bit of eco friendliness and hey presto, it will become an eco town, and that's the way that developers will now try to submit their applications.
CAROLINE FLINT: Well, if they're thinking along those lines they're going to be disappointed. Er, the standards we are setting are extremely high. Er, I've already mentioned about the fact that we want these to be zero carbon communities, the fact that we want to see how public transport can be an integrated feature. We also want to think about how er, we can make sure that people can get to services locally, within walking distance, something many people complain about in terms of health services and schools.
But importantly, we are not doing this on our own. We have major organizations working with us, Cave, The Princes Foundation, as I said, the environment agency and other green groups as well, to ensure that the standards are of a very high nature. So anybody thinking that they're going to get under the radar and get in just by saying the word green will be disappointed and I'll be blunt - the majority of bids that have come in, over fifty, er to date, will be rejected. So this is all about er focusing in on the best, that offer the best potential, but even then, in the next round, expecting them to go further and prove themselves even more.
JON SOPEL: And very briefly, I just wanted one other re-assurance, is the green belt sacrosanct. There will be no building on green belt land.
CAROLINE FLINT: The applications are focusing in on brown field sites and also excess public sector land sites. I haven't seen er, the bids in detail, but I think it's important that there is an emphasis on brown field development but also, I think we do have to recognize the difference between a green field, as opposed to green belt. There are examples, already in the country, Cambridge is one example where they have actually developed on green belt but then provided more green belt elsewhere. This is about a rigorous debate. It's about the future of housing and communities and I think it's about us showing what we can do both nationally and internationally, which is very, very positive.
JON SOPEL: Caroline Flint, thank you very much indeed for being with us on The Politics Show.
END OF INTERVIEW WITH CAROLINE FLINT
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The Politics Show Sunday 24 February 2008 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.
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