1. Next month the Government is expected to announce its preferred list of eco-towns. It is understood that more than 50 bids have been submitted to the Government for consideration, although Ministers have so far declined to disclose information about bids received or the location of proposed schemes. Based on research by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) , a map of possible locations is available from CPRE.
2. Last May, Gordon Brown pledged to build up to 100,000 houses in five eco-towns.  Each eco-town would contain between 5,000-20,000 homes. Developments would be zero carbon, contain a range of facilities, including schools, shops and leisure facilities and be an exemplar in at least one environmental technology. At the Labour Party conference in September, Gordon Brown as Prime Minister announced a further five eco-towns would be built, at least one in each region, making a total of 10 altogether. 
CPRE’s approach to eco-towns
3. CPRE is sympathetic towards the eco-towns initiative. Whether we can support individual eco-town proposals will depend on where they are located, what form they take, and how they are developed. Schemes should genuinely secure a step-change in environmental standards. They should not be a smokescreen for making housebuilding appear more palatable. They should be exemplars of environmentally sustainable development. For ‘eco-towns’ to succeed they must be well integrated with existing settlements and agreed with, not imposed on, local communities. Provided the right approach is taken eco-towns are an opportunity for planners and developers, working with communities, to inspire and set standards for others to follow.
4. While CPRE welcomes the focus on the environmental implications of new housing, eco-towns represent less than 10% of the 3 million new homes the Government is seeking to build by 2020. Its commitment to making new homes zero-carbon by 2016 is a step forward but not enough. To keep the impacts of climate change within manageable parameters, we need to achieve an 80% reduction in carbon emissions (on 1990 levels) by 2050. As a result urgent consideration should be given to improving the environmental performance of all development, new and existing. Since 70% of today’s homes will still be with us in 2050 the gains to be achieved from improving the environmental performance of existing housing are arguably greater.
5. In order to provide examples for others to follow it is vital that eco-towns are properly planned. A key issue is how decisions on eco-towns relate to existing local and regional plans.  These are subject to extensive public consultation and testing of evidence, and provide the basis for securing consent on the level and location of new development. The extent to which eco-towns will undergo public consultation, or be subject to full scrutiny and robust testing of evidence is unclear. Understandably, some communities feel sidelined since by inviting bids direct from developers the Government is circumventing normal planning processes whereby the need for a new settlement would be considered in preparing a local plan and the final scheme approved by the local council via a planning application. We understand that the Government may invoke New Towns Act procedures (or the equivalent) to designate and develop some eco-towns. This would be heavy-handed. To secure public support for eco-towns, the Government should not undermine the planning system and the considerable time, effort and expense communities have put into drawing up local and regional plans.
6. CPRE believes that decisions on eco-towns should take account of the wider development ‘shadow’ which extends far beyond the developed footprint of the site. This can be minimised where building occurs on urban brownfield sites and where infrastructure and public transport are already in place or can be provided relatively easily. The Government’s criteria for eco-towns currently requires them to be stand-alone new settlements.  Yet there is a compelling case for schemes to be developed based around urban renaissance, such as ‘eco extensions’ or ‘eco-quarters’, since most homes are in urban areas or will be built there.
7. Eco-towns should be subject to the same tests as any other new settlement proposal, as well as adding value by achieving better environmental standards. For the initiative to have credibility, schemes that are simply rejected development proposals that failed to win planning approval in the past, should only be considered where concerns that led to their being rejected in the first place have been satisfactorily addressed.
CPRE’s 10 tests
8. CPRE will be assessing shortlisted schemes against a series of tests along the following lines:
• the public and affected communities should be fully consulted on schemes, including the principle of whether or not to have an eco-town in their area;
• schemes should be tested through regional spatial strategies and local development framework reviews. These should ensure that decisions on eco-towns take full account of evidence on environmental effects, housing need and alternatives for meeting this;
• decisions on eco-towns should be accompanied by evidence that demonstrates a new settlement to be the most sustainable option for accommodating housing growth compared with other options, such as redeveloping an existing urban brownfield site or an urban extension;
• schemes should demonstrate efficient use of land, with densities capable of supporting public transport and a high priority given to recycling brownfield land and buildings;
• they should be genuinely carbon neutral, taking into account potential emissions from transport (domestic, public and commercial) and buildings (in construction and use);
• they should foster a strong sense of place and community, achieve CABE gold Building for Life Standards, with high quality public spaces, architecture and street layouts that give priority to pedestrians and non-motorised transport, including substantial car free areas;
• they should be subject to an independent landscape character appraisal, be sympathetic to their setting and clearly enhance the local landscape, built and natural heritage, including through the designation of new Green Belt where appropriate;
• they should include measures designed to conserve water and other natural resources, minimise soil, air, noise and light pollution and achieve zero-waste;
• they should be complete communities with homes (with at least 50% affordable), schools, workplaces, shops, recreation, community and health facilities and open space within walking distance and foster active, sustainable lifestyles and civic participation;
• they should be well connected to surroundings with high quality public transport providing good access to nearby settlements and local supply networks, with sourcing of local produce, such as food, fuel and replenishible building materials.
Notes for editors
1. CPRE, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, is a charity which promotes the beauty, tranquillity and diversity of rural England. We advocate positive solutions for the long-term future of the countryside. Founded in 1926, we have 60,000 supporters and a branch in every county. President: Bill Bryson. Patron: Her Majesty The Queen. www.cpre.org.uk
2. In March last year, the then Housing Minister, Yvette Cooper MP, announced that the Government would consider plans for eco-towns put forward by local authorities as part of the New Growth Points scheme. As part of his leadership campaign, Gordon Brown pledged to build five ‘eco towns’, BBC interview 17 May, 2007.
3. At the Labour Party conference in October 2007, Gordon Brown, who was by then Prime Minister, told delegates ‘And for the first time in nearly half a century we will show the imagination to build new towns - eco-towns with low and zero carbon homes. And today because of the response we have received we are announcing that instead of just five new eco towns, we will now aim for ten eco towns ---- building thousands of new homes in every region of the country.’
4. Around 200,000 homes a year are currently planned for in regional plans – homes provided in eco-towns are expected to be additional to this. The Government is to announce a further round of New Growth Points shortly (there are 45 currently).
5. The Government’s criteria for eco-towns are set out in Eco-Towns Prospectus (CLG, July 2007) available from http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/housing/ecotownsprospectus