Government scraps eco-towns planning policy

9th March 2015

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The government has axed planning policy aimed at supporting the building of housing developments to showcase best practice in environmental standards.

The eco-town planning policy statement was introduced by the previous government in 2009 with the aim of delivering developments that were “exemplars of good practice and provide a showcase for sustainable living”.

It set out a range of minimum standards that were more challenging than would normally be required for a new community, such as more efficient use of energy and water.

But the eco-towns programme was wound up shortly after the coalition government came to power in 2010. Eco-towns are being pursued in four locations: North-West Bicester in Oxfordshire; Whitehill-Bordon in Hampshire; Rackheath in Norfolk and St Austell in Cornwall.

In a statement to parliament last week, communities and local government 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.”

The planning policy will remain in place for the North-West Bicester eco-town until the local authority, Cherwell District Council, has completed its local plan, Lewis added.

The department for communities and local government (Dclg) commissioned planning consultants LUC to consider if it needed to undertake a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) before it cancelled the policy.

In a report, LUC concluded that an SEA was not needed. Its report states that since the standards in the planning policy were not being implemented in full, the environmental impacts from cancelling the policy would not be significant.

However, the Environment Agency warned that planning authorities working on eco-towns in Whitehill Bordon, Rackheath and St Austell might find it harder to achieve the higher standards it is asking developers for once the policy is cancelled, according to the report.

In particular, the agency points out that water management policy being promoted by East Hants council, which is working on the Whitehill-Bordon eco-town, could be challenged once the eco-towns planning policy is removed.

Environment and planning charity the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) slammed the move, saying it brought to an end any aspiration England had to be a global leader in sustainable innovation in the built environment.

Hugh Ellis, chief planner at the TCPA, said that instead of cancelling the policy, the government should have promoted the planning policy as best practice for local authorities to aspire to.

“This is an enormous retrograde step. The clear trend is not to follow innovation in the built environment but build what industry says thinks it can afford to build, which drives performance downwards,” he said.

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