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Eco-towns continue to be a controversial programme of supposedly exemplar sustainable new towns to be built in England. In 2007, The Department of Communities and Local Government (CLG) announced a competition to build up to 10 eco-towns.[1] These proposals have received support from organisations such as the Town and Country Planning Association, and also substantial scepticism (see for example Manns 2008 [2]).

Initially over fifty eco-town bids were suggested, many of them existing housing scheme proposals with added 'green' aspirations.[3] The eco-town concept and initial locations were subject to consultation by Communities and Local Government ending on 30 June 2008 and the draft planning policy statement (the standards eco-towns will have to meet) consultation ended on 30 April 2009.[4][5] Whilst ministers call for the ten schemes to be completed by 2020, others argue that it would be more appropriate to construct one or two exemplar schemes initially.


The eco-towns programme was intended to offer the opportunity to achieve high standards of sustainable living while also maximising the potential for affordable housing.[6]. Some 30% to 40% of housing in each eco-town is to be allocated as affordable, and made available to the thousands currently on the local housing waiting lists. The largest will provide up to 20,000 new homes, with officials saying the towns should be "zero-carbon" developments and should be exemplary in one area of sustainability, such as energy production or waste disposal. The new environmentally-friendly towns - low-energy, carbon-neutral developments built from recycled materials - will be the first new towns in England since the 1960s. The eco-towns will be largely car-free and the idea is that key roads will be restricted to 15 mph.[3]

The towns' strict development criteria which were developed led by the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) through 'worksheets' as advice to promoters and planners. The following were published - transport, community development, waste management, green infrastructure and water cycle management, and could be accessed from the TCPA website (

Eco-town standards

The standards eco-towns should meet include the following (as set out in the 'draft Planning Policy Statement: eco-towns')[5]:

  • Affordable housing: a minimum of 30% affordable housing in each eco-town
  • Zero-carbon: eco-towns must be zero-carbon over the course of a year (not including transport emissions)
  • Green space: a minimum of 40% of eco-towns must be comprised of greenspace
  • Waste and recycling: eco-towns must have higher recycling rates and make use of waste in new ways
  • Homes: homes must reach Code for Sustainable Homes level 4 or higher (surprisingly not the highest standard available, casting doubt on the credibility of these requirements)
  • Employment: at least one job opportunity per house accessible by public transport, walking or cycling (although the standards are silent on how housing developers might guarantee this and it is largely discredited in the current economic crisis)
  • Services: there must be shops and a primary school within easy walk of every single home, and all the services expected from a town of up to 20,000 homes
  • Transition/construction: facilities should be in place before and during construction
  • Public transport: real-time public transport information in every home, a public transport link within ten minutes walk of every home
  • Community: there must be a mixture of housing types and densities, and residents must have a say in how their town is run, by governance in new and innovative ways

There are further standards on water, biodiversity and other issues

There is a short video about the standards here:

The standards were recently subject to consultation and may therefore change.

Potential sites

On 3 April 2008, the shortlist of fifteen sites for the next phase of public consultations was announced.[7]

The shortlisted sites are:

The shortlist of fifteen sites will be trimmed down to between 1 to 10 locations - CLG have stated that they are more concerned that the best quality schemes are built than with specific numbers[5]. Micheldever Station, Grovewood in the National Forest in Derbyshire and Shipton Quarry were among 42 locations which failed to make the shortlist.

Proposals for Curborough in Staffordshire, Hanley Grange in Cambridgeshire[8], Coltishall in Norfolk and Manby in Lincolnshire have subsequently been withdrawn.

Evidence-base for Eco-towns as Sustainable New Settlements

As part of the Best Practice in Urban Extensions and New Settlements study in 2007[9], the TCPA had been looking at several urban extensions and new settlements around the country to identify what has changed since the new towns in terms of planning for large scale growth. This work is to inform local authorities who are contemplating growth and to showcase good practice, with reference to community engagement, design, environmental sustainability and masterplanning.

It carried forward a piece of research undertaken with Arup looking at the sustainability criteria for new settlement and urban extension options in the Cambridge and Stansted sub regions as part of the East of England draft regional spatial strategy Examination in Public process.

Some key terms of reference from this project are taken from the Barker Review. These include the following: • is the site able to support a viable community in terms of facilities and amenities? • can it showcase excellent design and sustainable buildings within a good quality environment? • is the site linked and supplied with good quality infrastructure – if not what are the transferable lessons to new growth poles? • what are the linkages to nearby viable settlements and are they appropriate and useful?


The plans have proved controversial [10] with campaigners saying the idea is a way to evade normal planning controls and bring forward schemes which have previously been turned down by local authorities as unsuitable. For example the Ford Eco Town site has previously been rejected by Arun District Council twice. Professor David Lock, architect of the Marston Vale "vision plan" [11] and former Chairman of the Town and Country Planning Association and an expert adviser to the Government has made public that the Government plans to "to force through eco-towns"[12] by "crashing the planning process". However, last but one Government housing minister Caroline Flint and previous incumbent Margaret Beckett have repeatedly assured critics that each eco-town proposal will go through the normal planning process. Critics point out however that once the Government has issued a Planning Policy Statement (PPS) designating a site as suitable for Eco Town status, that will then have to be taken into account by local planners and will reduce their ability to reject a scheme for being proposed on green field sites.[5].

Many local residents' groups[13][14] have argued against the sustainability of locating an eco-town in their proximity, citing poor transport links and building on primarily greenfield and agricultural land. Supporters of proposed eco-towns counter-argue that their districts need more affordable housing and that eco-towns will provide these homes in a comprehensively planned and sustainable way. The Optimum Population Trust has pointed to a discrepancy between the limited number and size of eco-town schemes and the much larger figure for projected housing need[15]. Supporters counter however that eco-towns will be exemplar settlements, informing future sustainable housing developments for many years.

First wave of eco-towns announced

On 16 July 2009, the UK Government announced the four successful eco-town bids: Whitehill-Bordon (Hampshire), St Austell (Cornwall), Rackheath (Norfolk) and North West Bicester (Oxfordshire). Housing Minister John Healey announced that developers in the four successful locations will be able to bid for a share of £60 million to support local infrastructure. He said he wanted to see at least six second wave areas identified in 2010 and announced up to £5 million available for councils to conduct further planning work on proposals.[4]


  1. ^ BBC article on Gordon Brown's eco-towns announcement
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ a b BBC announcement retrieved 11 April 2008
  4. ^ Eco-towns: Living a greener future - consultation paper - Housing - Communities and Local Government
  5. ^ a b c d [2]
  6. ^ "Eco-towns Prospectus", published by the Department of Communities and Local Government, 23 July 2007
  7. ^ BBC: 'Eco-towns' shortlist is revealed
  8. ^ Telegraph: Another Eco-Town Bites The Dust
  9. ^ TCPA, March 2007, Best Practice in Urban Extensions and New Settlements
  10. ^ Eco Town Plans Controversial
  11. ^ Marston Vale Vision Plan
  12. ^ Whitehall to force through eco-towns
  13. ^ Lidlington Action Group
  14. ^ No Ford Eco Town
  15. ^ . Eco-towns "Irrelevant" to UK Housing and Environment

External links



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