Britain’s eco-towns have a number of ‘firsts’ to encourage their creation: they will be the first new towns built for more than forty years, they will be the first designed for sustainability (low and zero carbon technologies, recycling waste and water, public transport) and they be the first to meet two targets: containing 30-50% social housing and consisting together of 3 million new homes to be built by 2020.
Green dream – NIMBY nightmare
So why are campaigners from tennis player Tim Henman to President of the Campaign to Preserve Rural England and author Bill Bryson campaigning against them? Because the fifteen currently selected locations are primarily in open countryside. Many local communities feel that they have not been consulted and that green sites are about to become mini-cities without consideraion of their current environmental value.
The speed of the eco-town concept has been astonishing. Just over a year ago Gordon Brown mentioned the idea in a speech – 60 bids were made by developers, 15 were accepted for further development, 12 went through to a form of consultation and this week one, and one only, has been given a Grade A rating – meaning it’s considered entirely suitable for purpose. Ten others received B ratings, suggesting that they could be suitable locations “subject to planning and design” and, of course, local support!
Zero-carbon is impossible
So if they use the latest green technology, help communities to live sustainable lifestyles and create best practice, why aren’t they more popular?
Because, as well as taking up open countryside, they allow developers to limit environmental innovation to these smaller projects, instead of spreading it through all new housing, and they will be net generators of greenhouse gases according to the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) which is advising the British government on the concept. The towns will, according to the TCPA generate much less greenhouse gas than other forms of settlement but ‘to call it zero-carbon is slack language.’ And if the new eco-towns can’t manage to be carbon neutral, then that means that by 2020, there could be 3 million new carbon-emitting houses in the UK.