It’s a bit Dr Moreau, but Isle of Wight’s ‘Eco Island’ dream is a good advert for localism

Nik Darlington 6.00am

The Isle of Wight has always had an independent streak and pioneering spirit. It was not a part of England until the 15th century. In more recent years, it became the home to the world’s first hovercraft and the development site for British space exploration. Dame Ellen MacArthur lives there and, when he is not staying in 5-star Arctic hotels, it is home to celebrity explorer Bear Grylls.

Now England’s largest island (and most populous parliamentary constituency) is striving to become a designated 'Eco Island'.

Whilst the rest of the Cabinet seem to be on holiday, on Tuesday the Energy & Climate Change Secretary, Chris Huhne, visited the getaway island of choice for Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens. Rather than hitting any of the island’s top beaches, Mr Huhne was there to discuss how the Eco Island initiative is being put into practice. Local authorities used the opportunity to update him on the progress being made on various renewable energy projects.

During a visit to the turbine firm Vesta, Mr Huhne examined the opportunities that exist in linking the development of offshore blades to the proposed wind farm west of the famous Needles.

Cllr David Pugh, leader of the Conservative controlled council, said: “It is clear that there is a huge amount of common ground between the opportunities we have here on the island and what Mr Huhne is looking to achieve. We are also heartened to hear his view that tidal energy has an important role to play in reducing carbon emissions.”

Mr Huhne is the MP for the neighbouring constituency of Eastleigh, just a short boat journey across the Solent. He praised the islanders for the ‘big society’ ethos that underpins the Eco Island scheme: “The island has the great advantage of being relatively small with lots of people able to talk to each other and therefore being able to make more progress more quickly.” A similar sentiment has been expressed on these pages by Rory Stewart, in relation to broadband initiaitves in Cumbria.

The Eco Island concept is gimmicky, with more than a whiff of the Dr Moreau about it. Forgetting the regrettable branding, it is a genuinely good attempt to create a discrete, sustainable community. Of course, Mr Huhne pinpointed the reasons why the Isle of Wight has an advantage over other parts of the country. Nonetheless, similar environmental schemes are being trialled by small communities such as Appleby in Cumbria.

Not only was this short visit a visible reminder of Chris Huhne the effective and respected Secretary of State (rather than under-fire speeding points dodger), it was a reminder of the power of proper localism at a time when its ethos is under threat from a grossly dangerous National Planning Policy Framework.

We should all observe developments this historic island with interest. It may have been the last part of England to convert to Christianity (in 686 AD), but it appears to be leading the pack in converting to sustainability.

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