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Eco Towns 'distraction' from real targets

The much heralded Eco Town’s initiative will only deliver a fraction of new housing needed in the UK and could be a major distraction from achieving targets according to the Home Builders Federation (HBF).

The Government has just announced a shortlist of 15 sites which will be assessed as potential Eco Towns – developments which will have to adhere to strict environmental criteria including low carbon standards.

Innovative proposals include district biomass production and the recycling of waste heat, but, Stewart Baseley, HBF executive chairman, warned: “The Government’s eco-towns proposals may well provide an environment where new technology and designs can be road-tested on a large scale.

“However, we must keep our eye on the bigger picture. Even if all of the shortlisted locations were developed, the homes built would only comprise less than 5 per cent of the 3 million homes we need to build by 2020.

“Delivering the Government’s targets on housing requires a huge effort on behalf of all involved. Local Planning Authorities and central Government must avoid the danger of eco-towns becoming an expensive distraction from the core need to provide the right number of homes in the right places.”

The new homes will have to be low carbon – which means they will have to perform 25 per cent higher than 2006 standards by 2010 and 44 per cent higher by 2013. It is eventually hoped the houses will be zero-carbon.

Schemes being proposed at sites are biomass heating systems fuelled by wood harvested locally and using waste heat from nearby power stations to support district heating systems.

The Eco Towns shortlisted are:
Pennbury, Leicestershire: 12-15,000 homes
Manby and Strubby, Lincolnshire: 5,000 homes
Curborough, Staffordshire: 5,000 homes
Middle Quinton, Warwickshire: 6,000 homes
Bordon-Whitehill, Hampshire: 5-8,000 homes
Weston Otmoor, Oxfordshire: 10-15,000 homes
Ford, West Sussex: 5,000 homes
Imerys China Clay Community, Cornwall
Rossington, South Yorkshire: Up to 15,000 homes
Coltishall, Norfolk: 5,000 homes
Hanley Grange, Cambridgeshire: 8,000 homes
Marston Vale and New Marston, Bedfordshire: Up to 15,400 homes
Elsenham, Essex: A minimum of 5,000 homes
Rushcliffe, Nottinghamshire: Further review planned for this site
Leeds City Region, Yorkshire: Further study to be undertaken on several proposed locations
But, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors warned the environmental benefit of Eco Towns could be undermined if they are isolated and reliant on private transport.

Commenting on the shortlist, James Rowlands, RICS public policy officer said: 'The development of brand new towns runs the risk of creating isolated pockets of housing that are not effectively linked into existing communities.

“Potential environmental benefits from eco-towns would be lost if strong communities are not created or if the people who live in them are reliant on private cars for transport. It may be better to look at the possibility of creating eco-extensions to existing communities, rather than completely new towns.'

Housing Minister Caroline Flint insisted the Government was balancing demand against environmental factors.

Mrs Flint said:  'We have a major shortfall of housing and with so many buyers struggling to find suitable homes, more affordable housing is a huge priority.

“To face up to the threat of climate change, we must also cut the carbon emissions from our housing. Eco-towns will help solve both of these challenges.”

The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) said proposed planning policy needed to encourage further eco-developments.

TCPA Chief Executive Gideon Amos said: “In areas not represented in the consultation we hope the proposed planning policy will enable more eco towns to come forward through the proper plan making process, perhaps even a new programme of eco-villages to satisfy the urgent need for rural affordable housing.”

To ensure the final eco-towns incorporate the best and most innovative proposals for sustainable living a panel of experts will work with developers to improve their plans. The panel will include leading figures from the fields of climate change and sustainability, energy, planning, transport, and business.