Last edited 05 Jan 2021

Eco town

On 16 July 2009, John Healey MP, Minister for Housing and Planning, published Planning Policy Statement: eco-towns, A supplement to Planning Policy Statement 1 (PPS1 Delivering Sustainable Development).

He also announced the sites of four demonstration ‘eco towns’ intended to stimulate environmentally sustainable house building. These were; Whitehill-Bordon, St. Austell, Rackheath and NW Bicester. These locations were to receive continuing Government support including a share of a £60 million growth fund to support local infrastructure.

In addition he announced that he wanted to see up to ten eco-towns by 2020, and a number of additional towns were proposed for consideration in December 2009.

The Planning Policy Statement stated, ‘The Government is committed to ensuring that everyone has access to a decent home at a price they can afford, in a place where they want to live and work. The Government has set a target to build 240,000 new homes per annum by 2016 and to reduce CO2 emissions by 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050. Plans for eco-towns should make a significant contribution to these targets and help address the serious threat of climate change.’

It was considered that by developing entire towns (of around 5,000 homes), rather than smaller neighbourhoods, it would be possible to support a secondary school and develop strategies for transport, employment and local services.

Eco-town developments were required to achieve the highest levels of sustainability, ensuring:

However, the initiative was not universally welcomed. It was noted that 20,000 homes was a tiny proportion of the overall requirement for new homes, and that rather than new independent, greenfield towns, proposals were largely for extensions to existing towns.

In July 2010, the Coalition Government announced it would audit the eco town projects before providing any more funding, and it was widely expected that the Planning Policy Statement would be revoked when the National Planning Policy Framework was published in March 2012.

However, the policy was not revoked, as confirmation was required that a full Strategic Environmental Assessment was not necessary. In March 2015, the eco-towns Planning Policy Statement was finally cancelled for everywhere other than North West Bicester (the only eco town that was continuing to move forwards), and there, only until Cherwell District Council had an up-to-date local plan in place.

Then-Housing and Planning Minister Brandon Lewis said: "Despite a pledge of 10 new towns by the last government, the eco-towns programme built nothing but resentment. The initiative was a total shambles, with developers abandoning the process, application for judicial review, the timetable being extended over and over, and local opposition growing to the then government’s unsustainable and environmentally damaging proposals." (Ref. Written statement to Parliament, Planning update, 5 March 2015.)

However, Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) Chief executive Kate Henderson said, ‘The eco-towns PPS set out an ambitious framework for truly sustainable low carbon places. The eco-towns standards kept alive aspirations for well-planned housing growth, which promoted people’s well-being while enhancing and protecting the natural environment.’ (Ref. TCPA Cancellation of Eco-towns policy is bad news for the green economy, 6 March 2015.)

In April 2014, the government published the Locally-led Garden Cities prospectus which set out a broad support package for local authorities to develop locally-led garden cities, which it described as ‘…liveable, viable, modern communities with the resident at the centre of planning’.

See Garden cities and Garden towns for more information.

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