Headlines: April 4th, 2008

The first eco towns in the country have moved a step closer with the announcement of 15 locations which will be looked at in more detail. But conservationists have voiced disappointment with the shortlist and local government leaders have warned that the towns must have the support of local people, meet carbon reduction targets and not bypass planning procedures.

Announcing the plans that would go forward to the next stage, the Housing Minister, Caroline 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.”

She said building in existing urban areas alone would not meet the demand. She was aware that the issues raised strong opinions, but there was now a chance for everyone to express their views before final decisions were made. Ms Flint also revealed that no new homes would be built on Green Belt land.

But the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England said the eco towns were the right idea in the wrong places. CPRE senior planner, Kate Gordon, said, “Our main worry is the proposed location of many of these schemes. We fully support the Government’s aspirations for achieving the highest standards in terms of sustainability and affordability. But achieving high environmental standards on site is not enough if the development is in the wrong place to begin with.”

The Local Government Association, meanwhile, said government proposals for a radical change to the planning process could mean normal planning processes could be ignored. The LGA chairman, Sir Simon Milton, said, “While we are in favour of tackling the housing crisis by building thousands of extra homes, imposing plans from Whitehall is not the right way to do it. It’s no use building carbon neutral, environmentally-friendly houses if they are in the middle of nowhere with no facilities so that people have to drive miles to buy a loaf of bread or take their kids to school.”