Eco towns: more homes, more jobs - but will they save the planet?
Much to developers' delight, the government has put in place a target to build 3 million homes by 2020. The plans include building 10 eco towns around the country to address the growing housing shortage and at the same time deal with the greatest environmental challenge - climate change. Each eco town is to be a small new town of at least 5,000 homes, each built to state of the art environmental standards, achieving a zero carbon rating.
Developers will have to follow the stringent criteria set out in the Eco Town prospectus published by the Department of Communities and Local Housing in July 2007. The prospectus states that any new settlement must be a well-designed place to live with good services and facilities, and must connect well with the larger towns or cities close by.
The essential requirements of an eco town include the following:
- Eco towns must be new settlements, separate and distinct from existing towns, but well linked to them with each town having a minimum target of 5,000 to 10,000 homes.
- Eco towns will need to incorporate renewable energy systems so that not only homes but schools, shops, offices and community facilities can reach zero carbon standards. Each town must be planned in a way that supports low carbon living and in particular minimises carbon emissions from transport.
- Eco towns must incorporate high standards of water efficiency particularly in areas of the country defined as severely water stressed and must incorporate environmentally sustainable approaches to managing waste drainage and flooding.
- Eco towns should provide a good range of facilities within the town, including a secondary school, a medium scale retail centre, good quality business space, and leisure facilities and green spaces.
- Affordable housing should make up between 30% and 50% of the total through a wide range and distribution of tenures in mixed communities with a particular emphasis on larger family homes.
- Eco towns have to look good too and the developers will be asked to commit to high standards of architecture and urban design across all housing tenures and buildings including commercial and community buildings and extending to the quality of the streets, parks and open spaces.
- An area-wide travel plan must be provided for each eco town scheme with targets on how it intends to achieve significantly higher proportion of journeys on foot, by cycle and using public transport. Each eco town will provide high quality public transport links.
- Eco towns are to provide jobs as well as homes with a clear economic strategy for the town relating business potential in the settlement to nearby towns and economic clusters. Working from home would be encouraged through live work units supported by WiFi and other IT networks.
Nevertheless, eco towns have sparked huge controversy over where the new communities are to be built. Although the government is committed to brownfield sites, supply is running low and many of the applications from developers who want to build the eco towns are in places that look like open countryside. It's going to be a long and weary fight - the government says eco towns will bring jobs, affordable homes and zero carbon standards, but the environmentalists say eco towns will destroy the countryside.
Farrah Tejani is a solicitor in the real estate team at EMW Picton Howell LLP.