Town backing out of 'eco-vision' plan under green-sceptic mayor

PLANS to create an "eco-vision" for the Dearne Valley may have to continue without support from one of the three councils involved after doubt was cast on the project's long-term benefits.

Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster councils signed up to the eco-vision scheme in late 2007, and consultants were engaged to draw up blueprints for the former industrial and mining area.

Work is being overseen by the Dearne Valley Special Board – chaired by Wentworth MP and Housing Minister John Healey – and aims to make the valley a "pioneer" in low-carbon living.

But Doncaster's English Democrat Mayor Peter Davies is sceptical of environmentalism and has described climate change as a "scam". Since his election interest in the scheme has waned and now support could be withdrawn altogether after a meeting later this week.

According to those behind the Dearne Valley eco-vision, the project will see the area transformed from "carbon production to carbon reduction" over a period of two to three decades.

Aspirations involve special education programmes for people in the affected communities and work to make homes and businesses more fuel efficient, with smaller "carbon footprints".

But Mr Davies has spoken of his concern over using council money for the project and said he was "very sceptical" about the project as whole and the benefits it could offer Doncaster.

Now the mayor's cabinet member with responsibility for environmental issues, Mark Thompson, has recommended the authority pull its 10,000-a-year backing starting next month.

Doncaster Council's powerful overview and scrutiny management committee, which recently overturned a council tax cut proposed by Mayor Davies, will consider the move on Thursday.

In a report to the meeting, officers will present members of the committee with three options, including a total withdrawal of support or the strengthening of Doncaster Council's involvement.

But Coun Thompson is said by officers to support the third option which seeks to, "...retain links with the eco-vision without committing any financial or staff resources at this stage".

It is thought that this approach could lead to problems with the other two South Yorkshire authorities, which would be left to bear the full cost.

The report says the council would: "Retain overall interest and monitor the progress of the eco-vision, with the mayor and chief executive attending Dearne Valley Special Board meetings. The council would also wish to receive minutes of all meetings held regarding the eco-vision. Involvement could be increased at a later date should projects emerge that benefit Doncaster."

The report says completely abandoning the project could lead to difficulties in attracting funding for projects in Doncaster, including road schemes which are currently planned.

Coun Thompson said yesterday: "My primary concern is doing what is best for the people of Doncaster and I can see little tangible benefit for our communities in the Dearne Valley.

"I also have concerns about the financial implications of the project for Doncaster in the longer term. Despite my concerns, I personally would like to see Doncaster retain an interest and monitor the progress the eco-vision."

Communities including Mexborough, Conisbrough, Denaby and Adwick are covered in the Doncaster Dearne, while in Barnsley, villages like Goldthorpe, Grimethorpe and Thurnscoe are covered.

Rotherham settlements including Wath-upon-Dearne and Swinton would be covered by the eco-vision and both Barnsley and Rotherham Councils have previously confirmed their commitment to the scheme.