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Will Throckmorton be a new ‘eco-town’?
THE village of Throckmorton, it's fair to say, is not really the most futuristic of places. A small, sleepy hamlet just a few miles north of Pershore, at first sight it appears noteworthy only for its charming 13th century church.
But the future, it seems, could soon be arriving on the doorstep of this tranquil little corner of rural life.
Later this month, the Government will unveil the shortlist of sites where it is considering building 10 ultra-modern "eco-towns", each to be designed as an environmentally-friendly settlement offering a blueprint for 21st-century life.
Following a flood of applications from private developers around the country, the Government has more than 50 possible locations to choose from. Buried in among the candidates is the old, disused RAF base at Throckmorton. Once the proposed site of a camp for asylum seekers, and more recently the burial ground for 130,000 culled animals following 2003's foot-and-mouth outbreak, the airfield's latest possible incarnation would far outstrip any of the previous schemes in terms of its sheer scale.
A Throckmorton eco-town would have a population of between 5,000 and 20,000 people - somewhere between the sizes of Pershore and Evesham - and carefully designed to become one of Britain's first-ever zero-carbon communities.
Explaining the plans to Parliament this month, housing minister Caroline Flint said: "Eco-towns must be designed to meet the highest standards of sustainability. They must lead the way in design, facilities and services, and above all in community involvement."
Indeed, so different will these new towns be to anything that has gone before, that housing experts expect them to provide a model which will be copied wherever possible across the UK and beyond.
"We want these new eco-towns to be held up as examples in terms of transport and sustainability," said planning consultant Lynda Addisson, a trustee of national charity the Town and Country Planning Association, which is advising the Government on eco-towns. "We've been looking around the world at what is best practice elsewhere, but very few places have ever tried to bring all these different ideas together in one community."
So far, so space-age - but what would an eco-town near Worcester actually look like?
First of all, every building would be as energy efficient as possible - this means super-insulated homes, shops and offices, each designed with plenty of natural light, each perhaps fitted with solar panels and even small wind turbines to generate their own power.
Outside of individual homes, the bigger picture will be just as important.
"The planning is crucial," Ms Addisson said, speaking at an eco-town seminar held in Birmingham this month. "There are currently too many sports facilities that can't be accessed by public transport, for example, because the hours the bus service runs is not co-ordinated with the hours of the facility.
"These towns must be planned so that people avoid using their cars by choice."
She pointed to examples that have been achieved on the continent, such as the newly-designed "car-free" district of Vauban in Freiburg, Germany. There, residents are charged thousands of euros each year if they want to park a car outside their houses - money which is then spent on developing open green spaces and playgrounds. At the same time, greater emphasis is given to public transport routes, cyclepaths and walkways than to normal roads. As a result, almost half of Vauban's residents do not own a car.
Ms Addisson also stressed that sustainability goes further than simply environmental considerations.
"These have to be towns where people want to live," she said. "That means building lasting communities - local people need to be involved in the process as early as possible.
"And it's about looking at things like allotments and open spaces for children that can easily be accessed."
The Throckmorton proposal, put forward by Malvern-based developers QinetiQ, has so far proved somewhat controversial.
Mid-Worcestershire's Tory MP Peter Luff has described the plan as "unworkable and undemocratic", claiming the extra pressure on surrounding roads, hospitals and other services will reduce the quality of life for people living nearby. Any "eco-benefits" will be lost through people commuting to work in nearby towns, he said.
Labour, however, point to the country's desperate need for more housing, with Mrs Flint describing the eco-town project as "a tremendous opportunity... radically changing for the better the way people travel, work and live."
Either way, her announcement later this month will only be the start of the process. Making the short-list would by no means guarantee that an eco-town would be coming to Throckmorton, with years of public consultations and planning inquiries still to come.
For now, the residents can only watch and wait.