Change Alley

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Eco-Towns: Unravelling The Mystery

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We wait with bated breath for the UK government to publish its shortlist of proposed eco-town sites in April. Around fifty projects have been put forward, but the government has refused to release information on the bids or locations on grounds of bidder confidentiality. Information is leaking out from somewhere, however, and there are growing concerns that the eco-town concept is just a smokescreen to make housebuilding more palatable (‘Un-eco Towns‘). There are three petitions on the Downing Street web site relating to specific proposed sites, and highly vocal protest groups for many others.

The Campaign To Protect Rural England (CPRE) has researched a list of 38 eco-town proposals, and an interactive map showing locations and details can be found here, and a PDF location map here. While sympathetic to the idea of eco-towns in principle, CPRE thinks it is essential to assess each proposal on its own merits, taking its local impacts and benefits into consideration, and has produced a list of ten tests which they believe eco-towns must pass to be successful:

• the public and affected communities should be fully consulted on schemes, including the principle of whether or not to have an eco-town in their area;

• schemes should be tested through regional spatial strategies and local development framework reviews. These should ensure that decisions on eco-towns take full account of evidence on environmental effects, housing need and alternatives for meeting this;

• decisions on eco-towns should be accompanied by evidence that demonstrates a new settlement to be the most sustainable option for accommodating housing growth compared with other options, such as redeveloping an existing urban brownfield site or an urban extension;

• schemes should demonstrate efficient use of land, with densities capable of supporting public transport and a high priority given to recycling brownfield land and buildings;

• they should be genuinely carbon neutral, taking into account potential emissions from transport (domestic, public and commercial) and buildings (in construction and use);

• they should foster a strong sense of place and community, achieve CABE gold Building for Life Standards, with high quality public spaces, architecture and street layouts that give priority to pedestrians and non-motorised transport, including substantial car free areas;

• they should be subject to an independent landscape character appraisal, be sympathetic to their setting and clearly enhance the local landscape, built and natural heritage, including through the designation of new Green Belt where appropriate;

• they should include measures designed to conserve water and other natural resources, minimise soil, air, noise and light pollution and achieve zero-waste;

• they should be complete communities with homes (with at least 50% affordable), schools, workplaces, shops, recreation, community and health facilities and open space within walking distance and foster active, sustainable lifestyles and civic participation;

• they should be well connected to surroundings with high quality public transport providing good access to nearby settlements and local supply networks, with sourcing of local produce, such as food, fuel and replenishible building materials.

Some of this echoes the contents of the original eco-town prospectus, but it’s good to hear that the Government is taking some notice. In a recent speech (‘Quality of life, not just quantity of homes‘) Caroline Flint, Minister for Housing, said:

“Contrary to some reports, eco-towns will be subject to rigorous planning processes. Each proposal will have to submit a planning application and will be properly scrutinised before it can proceed.

“I will soon be publishing a short-list of locations which we think have the potential to be successful. This will be followed by full public consultation with communities and stakeholders.”

This makes all the right noises about local consultation, but only for the ten projects (or fifteen or twenty, depending on which article or press release you read) that eventually get selected for the short list. That selection process is going on without any public involvement; how many perfectly good proposals meeting local priorities and demands will be secretly rejected because they don’t fit the wider Government agenda? No wonder that there is growing suspicion that this initiative is designed to give us what ‘they’ want, rather than what ‘we’ need.


Written by Pete Smith

March 10, 2008 at 3:07 pm

2 Responses

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  1. the cambois eco town i believe is a good site as residents all seem to be in favour and the land is mainly brownfield it will also tidy this nice little village up

    thomas thompson

    March 21, 2008 at 12:24 pm

  2. The Cambois proposal, from Banks Developments, is interesting. “The proposed site…is comprised of [sic] brownfield land on which heavy industry was previously located, low grade agricultural land and coastal dunes. It is bounded by tidal river estuaries to the north and south, and adjoins the North Sea coast to the east.”
    It’s not all brownfield land. Defining agricultural land as “low grade” is a subjective call, depending on how eager you are to build on it. Incorporating dunes, an increasingly rare habitat, is potentially controversial, despite their “retention and enhancement”. And who in their right mind would want to live so close to the North Sea in these days of global warming and sea level rise?
    “A major element of the eco-town could be the proposal by RWE NPower to construct a new coal fired power station in the south of the area, although it is not dependent on the power station going ahead.”
    A coal power station? Very eco!

    Pete Smith

    March 22, 2008 at 8:56 am

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