Category Archives: Economy

The UK’s First Eco-Town

Lindsey March

Bicester is famous all over the world as the site of the UK’s biggest tourist attraction, Bicester Village.  The signs in Japanese that you see in London are to direct visitors there.  It offers an immersive shopping experience, designed to help you consume as much fashion as you can manage to pack into your huge suitcase.  But it may soon become as synonymous with restrained, sustainable, comfortable but also aware and proud ways of living, made possible in the Bicester Eco-Town, where residents began to move in in 2016.  The second phase will have 6,000 homes.

TiK (Transition in Kings) hosted a talk by Nicole Lazarus who told us about Bicester Eco-Town.  It follows on BedZED, a development in London which is sustainable and also a successful community, where houses sell for 10-15% above the average local price.  She worked on this project and is now the Oxfordshire programme manager for Bioregional, working with a major housing provider and the local council to build the new town, whose first phase has 393 homes, a primary school, a community centre, an eco-pub and an eco-business and retail centre.

Bioregional is the organisation through which these projects are built.    It is guided by the idea of ‘One Planet Living’ – seeking to make it easier for ordinary people to live happy, healthy lives within their fair share of the earth’s resources, leaving space for wildlife and wilderness.  This idea has ten principles, covering health and happiness, equity and the local economy, culture and community, land use and wildlife, sustainable water, local and sustainable food, sustainable materials, sustainable transport, zero waste and zero carbon.  They seek to deliver ambitious but practical products and services, which bring a commercial advantage for partners.

All the homes will be built to Code for Sustainable Homes Level 5, incorporating triple glazing, rainwater harvesting and water recycling.  Electricity will be generated from PV solar panels on every home.  Heat and hot water will come from a combined heat and power plant, and will eventually use heat supplied by an energy-from-waste facility.  There will be cycle and pedestrian routes, a bus stop within 400 metres of every home, live timetable updates in each house, charging points for electric vehicles and an electric car club.

As well as building the Eco-Town, Bioregional has delivered a lot of environmental and energy-saving projects to the residents of Bicester itself.

Bioregional constantly checks on what they have built to find whether their ideas have been successful or whether they need to be changed or modified, and communicates this follow-up research widely, so that any mistakes may be avoided by new eco-towns and villages.  They work on a policy level, national and international.  BedZED was initiated by Bioregional, developed by the Peabody Trust in partnership with Bioregional and designed with architects, ZEDfactory (based in BedZED) and Arup engineers.  The homes are all very highly insulated but also well ventilated, using the wind cowls on the roofs.  Fresh outside air is drawn into the building and pre-heated by outgoing stale air via heat exchangers.  There is a mini district heating system, and a large hot-water tank in each home helps to keep it warm in winter as well as storing hot water.

TiK was very lucky to have heard this very encouraging and inspiring talk from Nicole.  She has worked for Bioregional for 20 years and lived in BedZED for ten years.  With us, she had a very appreciative audience, but she often speaks to audiences of developers and other business people, who are not necessarily so receptive.  Speaking personally, I was very encouraged, while at the same time thinking, ‘Why are developers not required by law to do many of the things that BedZED were demonstrating back in 2002?’  Bioregional estimates that residents of BedZED save about £3,258 a year in transport, water and energy bills.  That would be a worthy subject for the talents of the advertising specialists, along with advertisements for the delights of Bicester Village.

Did you know that there is a local food market in Kings Langley every month?

John Morrish

Just over two years ago, Transition in Kings (TiK), started the local food market on the High Street to increase the availability and awareness in Kings Langley of fresh, local produce.  The aim is for villagers to be able to trace the provenance of the produce and meet the producers to learn more about their local products.  Produce has to come from within 25 miles of Kings Langley and vegetables must be truly seasonal.

When the present owners bought Redbournbury Mill from the Crown, the mill had been unused since the 1950’s.  At this stage the mill was well preserved, although it did need considerable repairs.  It was almost unique as a historical record of an early Victorian water-mill.  From crop to crust, Redbournbury Mill supplies the bread for the market.  There is a fabulous selection of breads freshly baked on the morning of the market at the mill using their own stone-ground organic flour which is milled using French Burr stones.  The mill bakery was built in 2005 within one of the barns in front of the mill.  Bread baked at Redbournbury boasts the lowest possible “food-miles” with the grain grown, milled and baked all within two miles of the mill.

Hazeldene Native Rare Breeds Farm nestles in the folds of Asheridge Vale (Buckinghamshire) barely a mile from Chesham.  The 70-acre farm has been run on traditional principles by Liz and Steve Bateman since 2006.  All livestock is naturally reared and allowed to exhibit natural behaviour.  Beef comes from English Traditional Hereford Cattle which is a very rare breed with only 1000 cows alive.  Lamb comes from Oxford Down Sheep and pork comes from British Lop Pigs which are the rarest of native pigs with only 300 sows alive.  Bred from a Cornwall and Devon pig in the 1880s, they are very docile, good mothers and produce excellent pork and bacon.  At the market, as well as the meat for sale, you will often smell burgers and sausages cooking, all of which have been made on the farm.  The giant Scotch eggs are a particular village favourite!

From Wobbly Bottom Farm deep in the Hertfordshire countryside comes a gourmet range of soft and hard goat’s cheeses made in small batches from milk produced fresh on the farm.  The farm is run by Alan and Angela, who have been developing and perfecting their cheese-making craft since 2003.  Today, Wobbly Bottom’s freshly-made products range from a simple, creamy soft goat’s cheese to cheddars infused with a delicious range of extras, including tangy root ginger, real ale and mustard, and cracked black peppercorns.  What makes Wobbly Farm special is that the people who milk the goats are also the people who make the cheese.

Vegetables are picked fresh on the morning of the market from the TiK growing area at Rectory Farm.  TiK volunteers tend the land according to organic principles with no artificial weed killers or fertilisers and plant and harvest the vegetables less than a mile from the market, so not even a food mile!  What’s on offer depends on the season, but it will always be completely fresh.  Our produce is supplemented with watercress from the River Chess in Sarratt and local eggs from Willowdene Farm.

Michael Youngman has been making honey for many years in Langley Hill and he sells his full range of local honey at the market.  A special, and unusual, treat is the ivy honey which can only be made in certain years when there is sufficient ivy pollen in September.  It has a very distinctive flavour and has a number of health benefits.

It’s a challenge to source fresh fish within 25 miles of Kings Langley!  But while the fish comes from further away, we know that is it very fresh from the sea in Grimsby and tastes just how fish should.  Derrick Cheers drives down early on market mornings to be with us with his wonderful fresh fish.

There are a number of other stalls that change from time to time and we are always delighted to welcome new stallholders so, if you would like to have a stall with local produce, please e-mail John Morrish, the Market Manager:

We hope that this brief article has enthused you about the benefits of local produce and that we will see you soon at the market.  It’s the third Saturday of every month from 9am to 1pm on Kings Langley High Street outside where the Sorting Office used to be.

Taking sustainability personally

Robert Mostyn

Robert is the immediate-past Chair of TiK. He is planning another blog post that builds upon this one, which presents how citizens can become potent change-makers in achieving sustainability.


I have been reading in the news over the last 24 years how human activity, principally by burning fossil fuels, has contributed to a new phenomenon, global warming. Now a warmer Britain may sound appealing, very appealing in fact, but that is just looking at the issue from a personal convenience perspective. The thing is, global warming is a global issue that is much bigger than me and much bigger than Britain.

Observation number 1: perspective is everything
As a young man, I attended a seminar where it was suggested that we create “A world that worked for everyone, with no one left out”. This idea rocked my world. It struck a chord so deep that I still feel its reverberations in my heart 34 years later. Through various other conversations I had during that time I learned that so many people lived in the world with seriously diminished means and with that, a diminished dignity. This was the beginning of me shifting my personal perspective from “how do I get ahead in the world?” to “how do I get to live in the world with everyone else?”.

It was also around this time that I became fascinated with economics. In trying to understand how the world worked, I was compelled to understand the nature of the economy. This was an elusive subject…deeply personal yet profoundly global. I never studied it formally but I would devour articles that came my way about the nature of money. In short, I was discovering that the world mattered to me. I wanted to make a difference in the world. Could I do that?

So many issues would pass through my thoughts: fairness, being remunerated for hard work, valuing others, my own sense of being short of money, I deserve more, people who “make things happen” should be rewarded, and so on. I am a Libran, able to see both sides of a situation. No matter which perspective I took, there was always a tussle between equity, justice and freedom. What is right? What is fair? Who am I in the matter? What difference can I make?

Observation number 2: the only thing I have a complete say in is my own life
What I choose to study, what conversations I wish to engage in, the partner I choose and what opinion I want to express. Each one may have consequences I did not anticipate further down the line, but each one is of my own making.

While I was enquiring into what would make the world work, I could not help but be confronted with… daunted by… the innumerable things that weren’t working! Polluted rivers; oceans full of plastic; air thick with smog; chemicals in the water to keep it “clean”; pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics in food… I was (still am) being poisoned, both physically and spiritually! It is easy to be overwhelmed by the complexities of life. Surely someone would fix all this!

Waiting for that someone, I became quite despondent. Surely this someone would explain what the specific problems were and how to solve them. If not someone, then the government. No?

Inherent tensions / conflicts of interest within the system
It occurred to me that there was an unending, unwholesome loop in managing the affairs of the economy and state. It goes roughly like this:

  • politicians are not there to impose their will, they are there to reflect the will of the people
  • politicians like to be in power and for that they have to be popular
  • politicians have to be popular with voters (for their vote) and businesses owners (for financial support)
  • it would be difficult for any political party to implement a sustainability regime if there was anything unpopular about it – with either grouping above
  • a buoyant economy helps us all
  • even a steady economy is considered stagnant and therefore undesirable
  • economic incentives (the pursuit of efficiency), by its very definition, is geared towards taking people out of the production flow (therefore, out of the economy).

Invisibility is masking urgency
Over the last 100 years, extracting fossil fuels from the earth and burning them has resulted in a massive transition of carbon out of the earth’s crust into the atmosphere. It’s real, it’s seriously going to threaten our existence, but it’s invisible and the effects are not immediate. And out of sight has a tendency to be out of mind.

Several years ago I was reading a “State of the Planet” report published by the World Wildlife Fund. It said that if everyone on earth led an average British lifestyle, we would need three planets to sustain everyone. This was a *jolt* moment for me. Here I was, leading what I thought was a modest lifestyle, and discovering it required three planets (if I believe everyone on earth should have access to resources on an equitable basis)! My lifestyle is destroying the planet! Since then I have implemented a number of eco enhancements to our house.

Who do I turn to?
I need the government to tell me what to do, and I’ll do it. If I am a good citizen, I will comply and everything will be OK. Right? Tell me this then:

  • Which government will introduce laws that will curb my lifestyle by a factor of 3? That is 2/3 less travel to work, 2/3 less heating of the home in winter, 2/3 less food.
  • Which business owners will support a political party that reduces their business flows by 2/3?

For these reasons alone, I believe solving the sustainability problem will not be implemented by a government. And there isn’t much incentive for business to solve the problem either.

I am the key
The implementation of sustainability practice is not going to be implemented by government – it is too risky for politicians. And it’s not going to be implemented directly by industry.

If industry is simply a reflection of what the market wants, and I am part of that market, then my purchases (my consumption choices) are what shapes industry. This is the elegance of supply versus demand theory. I could criticise a battery manufacturer for using nasty chemicals in their manufacture, or producing a product that does not recycle easily, but if I am the one buying their product (and I do), I cannot blame the company. The company is simply an expression of me!

The shape of our sustainable future cannot be determined by government or industry. It is being shaped now. I can start determining sustainability implementation with my next purchase. And the next one. And the one after that…