Wednesday, 26 August 2009

New Lanark ‘eco’ town will build on reformer’s ideals

Charlene Sweeney
A century after the social reformer Robert Owen pioneered a kinder, more communal way of living at New Lanark, a charity is adopting his model to build Scotland’s latest new town.
Owenstown, named after the 19th-century industrialist, will be located on a 2,000-acre site, five miles south of Lanark, at the village of Rigside. It is expected to have a population of 20,000 people and could create 8,000 jobs.
The £1.5 billion project is the brainchild of the Hometown Foundation, a charitable trust established to build new self-sustainable communities, and will be organised along many of the principles that Owen favoured when he managed and co-owned the mill at New Lanark from 1800 to 1828.
He helped improve the living conditions of his workers by creating a co-operative store in the village, with profits invested in community facilities such as schools. However, Owen, who left New Lanark in 1828, never realised his ambition to see his ideals adopted elsewhere in Scotland.
Jim Arnold, chairman of the proposed town’s co-operative, and director of the New Lanark Trust, said: “This will be a new and inspired modern version of Robert Owen’s dream — a realisation of his ideals. Owen was ahead of his time and never fully achieved his ambition.
“It would be wonderful to realise the dream in 21st-century Scotland. We’ve been speaking already to local and central government to seek their views on it.”
The charity’s plans go on public display at New Lanark next week, opening a six-month period of consultation. It is hoped a planning application will be submitted next year, allowing construction to start in as little as three years.
If it is approved, the new town will be self-sufficient, eco-friendly, run on co-operative principles and managed by its residents.
Houses, produced in kit form by a factory located in the town, will be sold or rented, with the profits being ploughed back into the community. The factory will also be the first major employer in the community, which hopes that low overheads will help to attract new businesses. The town will have its own wind farm, producing low-cost energy, and a green heating system powered by recycled waste.
A farm on the outskirts will grow organic produce for local consumption and each household is to have its own garden or allotment plot to encourage the growing of fruit and vegetable.
A fleet of low-carbon electric vehicles will be the principal mode of transport for those whose journeys cannot be made on foot or bicycle, and routes for visitor traffic will be established to reduce any adverse impact on the town.
Although decisions will be made by a board of trustees elected by residents, local government would still have a role in running the town. Dr Arnold said that Owenstown would not bypass the system of elected local councillors.
Stuart Crawford, a trustee of Hometown Foundation which has bought the land and set up the Owenstown co-operative, said: “This is an innovative and ground-breaking project. The general response has been one of enthusiasm.”
Karen Gillon, the local MSP, and Scottish Labour’s rural development spokesman, described Owenstown as ambitious and exciting, adding: “A new town would revitalise the area and would have beneficial knock-on effects for the local economy.
“I back this development and I would be keen to work with Hometown Foundation to ensure it comes to fruition.”
Once planning permission is granted, a loan can be requested from banks or building societies to start construction. Businesses interested in being in the new town can also contribute money to its development.