April 8, 2015
Build it – but will they come?
Is it possible to create a community from scratch? An organisation called Hometown Foundation think it is and submitted a planning bid to do just that in South Lanarkshire. Based on cooperative ownership principles, this shiny new, low carbon community – Owenstown – would have had 3000 homes and created about 10,000 jobs. But we’ll never find out whether Hometown’s utopian dream would have had a happy ending. Last month, Hometown’s appeal against South Lanarkshire Council’s decision to refuse them planning permission was dismissed. Is this a missed opportunity?
“Deep disappointment” and “extreme regret” at the loss of homes, jobs and opportunities for young people.
That was reaction of the Hometown Foundation charity to the dismissal by a Scottish Government Reporter of their appeal against the refusal of planning permission in principle for their £500 million Owenstown development in South Lanarkshire.
The philanthropic project, which was aimed at putting people first, may now be lost to Scotland altogether with other sites being looked at in England, Wales and Ireland. Its rejection raises concern from the charity that neither the planning nor political system is in tune with public opinion or the desires of individuals.
“Owenstown is a proposal that supports local democracy and puts the individual and the community at the heart of its existence,” said Bill Nicol, Director of the Hometown Foundation.
“However a community that owned and managed its own affairs might have been regarded as a threat by some. Over the last few years, we have seen a growth in politicians and officials right across the country who are failing to meet the needs of the community they are meant to serve.
“At the end of the day, it is individuals and communities who are being denied the opportunities for a fresh and prosperous future.
“Although the Owenstown concept may have been too advanced for some there is a growing appetite for devolution of more power to local communities.
“The Hometown Foundation is already in the process of utilising a number of the Owenstown principles, particularly in the fields of education and community empowerment, to help community groups who wish to have greater control over their own affairs.”
The Reporter’s findings follow a two-day public hearing in January into the plans for the project which had been scheduled for 400 acres of a 2,000 acre site near Rigside in the Douglas Valley. It examined the decision by South Lanarkshire Council in April last year to reject the application.
The project was first announced more than five years ago and would have created 3,200 homes and up to 10,000 jobs without the need for public funding. There would also have been offices, restaurants and shops, land and buildings for industry, a hotel and a care home, as well as two new primary schools and one new secondary school. The Foundation had also planned to create a new technology and innovation centre to develop ideas to harness the potential of emerging technologies, locking in sustainable employment to the local area.
The town would have been owned and managed on a co-operative basis by its residents and all surplus funds generated would have been reinvested in the community instead of being taken out by property developers or landowners. The principle of Owenstown is based on social reformer Robert Owen’s ideas at nearby New Lanark 200 years ago.
In his finding, the Reporter says he had to determine the appeal in accordance with the Council’s development plan.
Director Bill Nicol said:”This decision will mean the loss to local people of new homes, vital jobs, industrial units and an innovation centre. There’s nothing else on the horizon of any consequence from South Lanarkshire Council and it’s a great pity for young people whose best hope may now be to emigrate.
“Local people were all in favour of the development and councillors had no right to ignore their wishes by hiding behind minor planning matters which could have been easily resolved. It is also deeply disappointing that some local politicians, including Claudia Beamish MSP, have put their prejudices ahead of the needs and expressed wishes of many of their constituents.”
According to opinion polls carried out on behalf of Owenstown’s developers, there was overwhelming support for the project. Mori in particular said it was one of the clearest results they had ever seen.
“This represents a massive loss to the area and Scotland as a whole. We have spoken to authorities in England, Wales and Ireland about the concept and they have no difficulty understanding its potential,” said Mr Nicol.
“We will now be investigating the opportunities that exist in other less blinkered parts of the country.
“What we can’t understand is why our local and national elected representatives can’t grasp something which is ambitious, visionary and morally right – perhaps it’s because they didn’t think of it first.”
Full details of the Owenstown project are available online at www.owenstown.org
More information about the Hometown Foundation