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Vauban - a green utopia?

Nick Watson
Nick Watson
Politics Show West Midlands

House in Vauban surrounded by plants
Green living in Vauban

Vauban is a suburb of the German city of Freiburg im Breisgau and it can probably lay claim to being the greenest place in Europe - if not the world.

Sitting in south western Germany, close to the border with France and Switzerland, it is an environmentalist's paradise.

Energy is generated by solar panels and wood chip burners and people live in low energy "passive" houses.

Car ownership is frowned upon to the point of being actively discouraged and recycling is practically a religion.

It was built on the site of a former military base in the mid 1990s and is currently home to around 5,000 people and 600 jobs.

Blank canvas

Anybody who has followed the eco-town debate in the West Midlands will be struck by the similarities between the Vauban project and what's being proposed at Long Marston in Warwickshire and Curborough in Staffordshire - and 13 other sites across England.

Both of our local sites also have a military past and the size of settlement planned is around about the same as that in Vauban.

In fact the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, a government funded quango which advises on building and design projects, features Vauban as a case study of environmental excellence on its website.

Vauban was created from a blank canvas so it was decided to ban detached houses in favour of more dense and energy efficient housing and also aim for half of the households to be car free.

Car sharing schemes

We need more houses for local people where they want to live - in the towns and villages
Peter Luff MP

This has been encouraged by car sharing schemes which see residents qualify for a free public transport pass if the take part.

And crucially that public transport is excellent with two bus routes connecting Vauban to central Freiburg and the main railway station. There is also a tramline into the city.

So on the face of it Vauban is a green utopia - crucially perhaps though it is a matter of just 4km south of the centre of Freiburg whereas the eco-towns proposed in this region are further away from major settlements.

Mid Worcestershire MP Peter Luff is a sceptic and has described the Long Marston plan as "this monster in our midst."

Old military depot

"This so-called eco-town will do huge damage to Vale villages and put a great strain on our roads and local services. It will bring no benefit whatsoever to local people," he said.

"Yes we need more affordable housing - but not on an inaccessible old military depot miles from where people want to live. We need more houses for local people where they want to live - in the towns and villages."

And with hundreds of people already marching against the government's eco-town plans the question is will we ever see anything like the Vauban scheme in this country?

BBC Midlands Environment Correspondent David Gregory has been for a tour around Vauban.

Also in the programme ...

Plans for what has been described as a new "sub regional" waste incinerator in Staffordshire have run into opposition from, among others, Friends of the Earth.

The proposal involves building the new burner on an industrial estate at Four Ashes near Cannock to deal with some 300,000 tonnes of rubbish a year.

Staffordshire County Council says the incinerator is needed if they are to reach their target of sending nothing to landfill sites by 2020.

EU directive

This huge plant will need feeding 24 hours a day 7 days a week
Paul Roughly, Friends of the Earth

If achieved it would put the county way ahead of the EU directive to reduce biodegradable municipal waste landfilled to 35% of that produced in 1995 in the same time frame.

But Friends of the Earth (FoE) are concerned at the plan which would add another incinerator to a region which they describe as the nation's incinerator capital.

The West Midlands already has five municipal incinerators making it the English region with the largest number of incinerators.

Huge waste plant

Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Stoke on Trent and Wolverhampton already have one.

"This huge plant will need feeding 24 hours a day 7 days a week," said FoE Stafford spokesman Paul Roughly.

"It has the capacity of burning at 300 000 tonnes per year and will take waste from not only South Staffordshire but possibly Walsall, Wolverhampton and parts of Warwickshire making it a sub regional facility."

Exporters of waste

Staffordshire's Director of Waste Strategy Ian Benson said he shared FoE's ideals, but had to be realistic.

"Staffordshire is not an island. It already exports far more waste than it imports from neighbouring areas. Even with the Four Ashes operation we will still be net exporters of waste," he said.

Our reporter Susana Mendonça has been taking a look at this burning issue.

The Politics Show for the West Midlands, with Jon Sopel and Michael Collie on Sunday 15 June, at 1200 BST on BBC One

If you have an issue you would like us to follow up then please write to the producer of the show: Nick Watson, BBC Politics Show, The Mailbox, Birmingham, B1 1RF or email

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