The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) seems to have stirred up a great deal of emotion in government with our critical comments on Eco-towns.
A spokesperson from Caroline Flint’s office was quick to accuse us of reverting to type, and by that I presume they mean we are being NIMBYs. The Government also issued the results of a You Gov survey stating that 46% of people in England support the development of Eco-towns.
CPRE supports Eco development too.
What we don’t support is something with a veneer of greenwash masquerading as an Eco-town. From the very beginning we have had concerns about the process for shortlisting towns. Communities usually participate in consultations to determine how many houses their region needs and where they should be built. The Eco-towns competition with its secretive shortlisting procedure is leapfrogging the statutory planning process and landing Local Authorities with towns they hadn’t planned or budgeted for and which have not been assessed to determine whether they are in the best possible place for the region.
So much for the democratic deficit, what about the environmental credentials of the proposed Eco-towns? A criteria for Eco-towns is that they should be freestanding. The problem with this approach is that it is likely to increase car use as people commute elsewhere to work and shop. CPRE does not think it makes sense to design in car dependency in an era of peak oil and climate change.
To make matters worse, the plans for public transport in these towns look tokenistic at best. Or so it seems, the proposed Eco-towns are still swathed in a mist of commercial confidentiality which makes it impossible to work out quite what is proposed.
The quality of the housing is also being called into question. Initially the Government called for homes in Eco-towns to be built to a ‘level six’ sustainability rating. They have now rowed back from that requirement and are accepting houses built to a ‘level three’, a requirement all new houses will have to meet in about two years so hardly groundbreaking.
We were told Eco-towns would make good use of brownfield land thus preserving our precious resource of arable land. Again, this isn’t the case. Working from details we have gleaned from developers, twelve of the developments will be built on 60% or more of green field land, with one having development on the Green Belt. If you don’t believe us take a look at the CPRE produced Google map with an outline of the development traced over an aerial photo.
CPRE’s concerns are shared by others, the Government appointed Challenge Panel, set up to improve developer’s proposals, makes for interesting reading. It challenges some developments on the basis of a lack of vision and many on poorly thought out travel management. If these problems are not resolved, and if Eco-towns turn into New Towns with the odd solar panel and wind turbine, then the country will be the poorer for it. The Government promised us exemplar developments that would lead the way in sustainable living. So far the signs are not looking good.
Marina Pacheco is the head of planning at the Campaign to Protect Rural England
30 June 2008