Eco-Slums for Eco-Proles

by | Feb 6, 2008

You and Yours (a daily consumer affairs magazine on BBC Radio 4) ran a feature on Britain’s planned “eco-towns”, last Monday (yes, we’re a bit behind at the moment). [podcast available here]

The uk needs more homes. We also need to reduce our carbon emmssions, and the way the Government has brought these two aspirations together is with the ‘eco-town’ – allegedly brand new environmentally-friendly settlements of up to twenty-thousand homes. Next month, ministers hope to announce ten places in Britain which will become ‘eco towns’. But already groups are capaigning against these proposals saying they will ruin the countryside.

The feature began with a group of school children being given a tour of an eco-house.

TOM WALLIS: Okay. We’re in the bathroom now. And as you remember, this is the eco-house, so everything in this house is good for the environment. Okay. So you’ll be able to see that this toilet is totally different to the toilets you’ve got at home. That’s because it uses no water at all. This is actually a compost toilet.


JESSICA ROSE: Tom Wallis is giving a group of school children a tour around Leicester’s eco-house. It’s been built by an environmental charity and it’s packed full of green technology to give visitors ideas about how to make their homes more environmentally-friendly.

TOM WALLIS: So this toilet doesn’t use any water at all. Actually, when you go to the toilet here, it’s all stored at the bottom. And every so often you have to give it a little stir. And then, once in a while, you have to take it outside and bury it in the garden. And that’ll turn into really good compost for feeding your flowers.

The children were the only rational beings to participate in the feature. Their disgust at the idea of composting toilets is entirely sensible. We too should turn our noses up at the idea that “houses of the future” will not be connected to sewers. The story continues:

JESSICA ROSE: But the government want to go further than one eco-home. It wants to build ten new green towns called ‘eco-towns’. In the forward to its eco-towns prospectus, the then housing minister, Yvette Cooper says this:

“To help families across the country find affordable, quality housing we need to build far more houses. But we also need new measures to protect the environment. … As housing accounts for 27 per cent of carbon emissions, we need to … work towards zero carbon housing and development. … Now we want local areas to come forward with ideas on how to put these principles and ambitions into practice – with a new generation of eco-towns.”

It is not clear whether the Government intends that eco-homes in eco-towns will feature eco-toilets. It seems unlikely. Yet the principle remains – the ethic driving these developments is not that humans deserve a pleasant space to live in, but that their basic functions and needs are grudgingly catered for in such a way as to remind them that everything they do contributes to destroying the planet.

The feature itself was about wranglings over whether developers had been re-submitting rejected planning proposals in greenfield sites, after giving them a Green wash. This is, in the view of campaigners, a bad thing. Environmental concerns have always served as a pretext for NIMBYs who are terrified of new developments ruining their afternoon walks, lowering their house prices, or generally lowering the tone of an area. Instead of appearing mean-spirited, objections to the provision of housing to people who need it can be framed instead in terms of a greater good. It is not surprising then, that the proposals are being objected to on the basis that they’re not genuinely Green. ie, they don’t really ‘mean it’.

But of course housing developers are in the business of developing housing estates. But it is telling that houses are no longer seen as a good thing, because, err, they are places for people to live. Now we need ‘ethical’ houses, and ‘ethical’ builders. Ethical – ‘as if people mattered’? Clearly they don’t.

JESSICA ROSE: Back at the eco-house in Leicester, the school tour is ending. The Government’s expecting to announce its shortlist of eco towns in February, and it hope they’ll be built by 2020. So these children could be buying their first homes in Britains new towns. But there’s still an aweful lot of controversy to come before that happens.

So what is it these children are being asked to look forward to? This story epitomises the inability to create positive ideas about the future. All that can be promised is crappy little houses for crappy little people, which are all about ‘reducing impact’, not the possibility of exciting new towns and cities offering new opportunities and way of life. What is being created are eco-slums, where only the basic needs of the inhabitants are met. They may even have to throw their own shit out of the window, just as in the old slums. Gardyloo? Not in our back yard.

1 Comment

  1. john a. bailo


    I was just reading a book called “The Ghost Map” about an outbreak of cholera in London’s Soho district back in the 1800’s.

    The cause was the same exact thing: there was no plumbing, so the toilets would empty into a cesspool in the basement! Yes the basement! Or maybe in the backyard, but it would be exposed and cleaned out only when it had started to overflow…maybe!

    So, of course, the sewage seeped into the well water and…hundreds died in various cholera outbreaks.

    Glad to see the Greens are taking on a journey back in civilization.



  1. Lost Horizons » Climate Resistance - [...] then government’s plans for ‘eco-towns’ was being challenged by nimbies, their complaint eing that the proposed developments weren’t sustainable…

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