PROS and cons of the £100 million Eco Park development proposed for Stroud were the subject of a robust debate last night.

A panel including councillors, ecological experts and a former Stroud MP clashed over a myriad of issues to do with the sport and green technology centre.

The plans are quickly emerging as one of the most ambitious and contentious development issues in Stroud in the last few years.

The Eco Park proposal is a 100-acre sports and business facility located on either side of the A419 near Junction 13 of the M5.

Almost half of Eco Park would be dedicated to creating state-of-the-arts sporting facilities, much of which will be open to the public, including a 5,000 capacity stadium for Forest Green Rovers.

The other half would comprise a sustainably built green technology business park potentially capable of hosting up to 4,000 jobs.

A third portion of land will become a nature reserve. The overall concept also includes a plan to with the Cotswold Canals Trust to open up part of the 'missing mile' of the Stroudwater canal and the potential development of a public transport hub.

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The ambitious concept proposal has been brought forward by the Ecotricity founder and Forest Green Rovers (FGR) chairman Dale Vince.

His plans came under measured scrutiny from all sides at the debate at a busy Old Town Hall, which was hosted by Stroud Civic Society.

David Drew, former Labour MP for Stroud, said: “This project will, we hope, bring something very special to this area.

“We have a real opportunity to create a truly sustainable football club, which would be a world first.”

Speaking as vice chairman of FGR he said the plans were a crucial part of the club’s growing ambitions.

“We believe the club has everything needed to get into the football league apart from one thing – a suitable stadium,” he said.

“If we are promoted this season we will be getting crowds up to three thousand, which the New Lawn stadium just won’t be able to cope with.

“We want to grow our club, grow our facilities and also bring our ladies and youth teams under one roof.”

He added that the development would be a huge boost for employment numbers in Stroud, which he argued was a real issue for the town.

Alison Williamson, environmental planner for Ecotricity set out a vision of a ‘truly green development’, confirming that an outline planning application would be submitted to Stroud District Council around Christmas.

She told the crowd the business park would be an ‘enabling development’ for funding the sports centre, which in total would ‘create’ 4,000 jobs.

Addressing traffic concerns she explained they would create a dual carriageway from the M5 to Chipmans Platt roundabout on the A419, with a signalised junction.

She also highlighted plans for an eco bus routes and a pedestrian cycle way with links to Stroud, saying: “We believe all of this will actually will actually lead to a reduction in traffic times along the A419.

“Moving on the building, we will use sustainable principles in the construction, operation and the design.”

These ‘innovative designs’, she insisted, would be carbon negative and energy efficient, with on-site renewable energy sources such a solar panels.

“The aim is to attract as many green businesses as possible to create one of the biggest environmental business hubs in the area,” she added.

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But Stephen Davies, Conservative District Councillor for Eastington and Standish said despite the ‘good aims’ he was deeply nervous whether Ecotricity would actually be able to bring green businesses to the park.

“There are some who see this as another attack on green in fields a very special part of the world,” he said, explaining that he had seen ‘considerable animosity’ to the plans amongst his constituents.

Questioning the 'green' credentials of the scheme, he said: "There is nothing greener than a green field.”

“And another big issue is transport. Stroud District Council's local plan has just agreed 1,300 homes west of Eastington.

“The A419 is already close to saturation point, and this proposal will create an extra 4,000 journeys from the business park.”

He envisioned huge issues with traffic on match days and at rush hour times that ‘one or two new access points would not be able to solve’.

“Therefore, Gloucestershire Highways’ input will be crucial, their consideration must be heeded, he added.

Assuring the audience he wouldn’t make up his mind until the planning application was submitted, he concluded: “The devil is in the detail."

Hugh Barton, emeritus professor in health and sustainability, agreed, saying the traffic and parking issues would undoubtable pose the biggest questions.

"This will be 95 per cent car dependent, emissions from cars would be unescapable,” he said.

“In terms of climate change and making green building, the traffic downside will undermine any zero-carbon claim that Ecotricity make.”

He was also voiced concerns that it may have affect other business areas, and draw business away from the Stroud valleys.

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But wearing numerous hats, Simon Pickering, Green District Councillor and ecologist at Ecotricity, said he wanted to make Eco Park a ‘shining example of sustainable and ecological development in Gloucestershire’.

Addressing a number of ecological issues he said he wanted bring extra species to the area by creating new habitats on the wetland area next to the river Frome.

As well as ‘bat corridors’ to allow for the migration of a number of local species, he said there were also plans to grow an orchard for them to feed in.

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