Change Alley

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Un-Eco Towns

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English eco-town

The UK Government will shortly publish its short list of eco-town schemes for consultation, following a cross-Government review. The original plan was for a programme of five eco-towns to be implemented across the English regions. However, interest has been so high (over sixty proposals have been registered with the government) that the Prime Minister announced at last year’s Labour Party Conference that the number of schemes would be doubled to ten.

The Planning Portal lays out the basic requirements for eco-towns in its report ‘Eco-town concept gathers ground‘:

Eco-towns will be small new towns of between 5,000 and 20,000 homes. They are intended to exploit the potential to create a complete new settlement to achieve zero carbon development and more sustainable living using the best new design and architecture.

This must translate into places with a separate and distinct identity but good links to surrounding towns and cities in terms of jobs, transport and services.

The development as a whole must achieve zero carbon and to be an exemplar in at least one area of environment technology.

The settlement must provide a good range of facilities within the town including a secondary school, shopping, business space and leisure.

Critically, the eco-town must have between 30 and 50 per cent affordable housing with a good mix of tenures and size of homes in mixed communities.

And, crucially, the settlement must have a delivery organisation to manage the town and its development and provide support for people, businesses and community services.

The principal justification is, of course, climate change, with sustainability and zero carbon emissions as the main targets. Housing minister Iain Wright told Parliament recently that the review would exclude sites “where there are too many showstoppers to allow development to take place”. However, fears are growing that conventional planning criteria such as biodiversity, conservation and landscape may be over-ridden in the dash for carbon neutrality.

In an article in last Saturday’s Guardian, Tristram Hunt describes how housebuilders’ response to the eco-challenge has been “a series of cunning attempts to revive planning permission for previously rejected projects”, often favouring brownfield sites over greenfield.

  • Eagle Star Insurance wants to build on farmland and wildlife-rich woodland at Micheldever on the North Hampshire Downs. The company has been trying to build a commuter town there since the 1970s, without success. Plans for a 12,500 home development have been tarted up with eco-town catch-phrases and resubmitted.
  • In South Derbyshire, Bank Development has rejected the Drakelow power station brownfield site, and is applying to build its ‘Grovewood’ eco-town around Cauldwell and Roslinton, felling National Forest trees and constructing a feeder road.
  • In Oxfordshire, Kilbride Properties wants eco-town exemption for 5,000 houses on an SSSI in designated Green Belt.

Of course, there have been many excellent schemes put forward, but there is a growing distrust of the review process and a fear that the government will take the easy option for greenfield development. A major part of the problem is the distillation of environmental problems to one issue, climate change, and a complete lack of government concern for wider conservation issues. As Tristram Hunt puts it:

” … no minister seems willing to express a belief in the value of the natural heritage. Instead, it is all about percentages and targets – the language of emissions trading systems and carbon neutrality – which disconnects the struggle against climate change from a broader notion of ecology.”

That is right on the money. The environment has become a single issue, climate change, and we have become blinkered to anything else. We are in danger of waking up in a carbon-neutral wasteland, occupied by just ourselves and the few species we find either too useful or too tenacious to get rid of.


4 Responses

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  1. It’s a disgrace of Gordon Brown to foist these plans upon England when he has no housing mandate for his own backyard.

    Labour like to talk about sustainability but for them there is no upper limit to the UK population, and hence, no upper limit to the amount of England’s formerly green and pleasant land that they will need to build houses upon (and then the roads, industrial estates, shopping centres, airport runways, schools, hospitals to service the new populations).

    It’s all good because more people means higher GDP, irrespective of the impact that overcrowding and conjestion have on our quality of life.


    February 26, 2008 at 3:57 pm

  2. Yes, I think I can see where this is leading. I agree that population pressure is THE major contributory factor to environmental degradation, as we have used technology massively to exceed the carrying capacity of the land. However, I draw the line at restricting immigration, because (a) this is a social and economic policy rather than an environmental one and (b) because we need a much larger reduction in our population to make any environmental difference. The Optimum Population Trust maintains that the Uk is over-populated by 70%.

    Pete Smith

    February 27, 2008 at 12:05 pm

  3. […] Article At: Change Alley Bookmark to: Filed under PortalFeeder by Tags: labour party conference, change alley, planning […]

  4. Hi Pete
    Hope you get this. You were kind enough to post an article on Fellowtravellers last year. I could use some support. Please drop me a line & I’ll tell you more.



    michael wharton

    March 22, 2009 at 12:10 pm

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