EXCLUSIVE: Local authorities pioneer the first eco-towns

20 July 2009 The eco-town programme has captured the imagination of local authorities says Kate Henderson from planning and housing charity, the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA)

Local authority led proposals in Whitehill-Bordon in Hampshire, St Austell (China Clay) in Cornwall, Rackheath in Norfolk and North West Bicester in Oxfordshire have been confirmed in national planning policy as locations for new eco-towns. These eco-developments will pioneer innovative design and low carbon infrastructure for greener living. According to Gordon Brown: “Eco-towns will help to relieve the shortage of affordable homes to rent and buy and to minimise the effects of climate change on a major scale.

They will provide modern homes with lower energy bills, energy efficient offices and brand new schools, community centres and services.” Speaking about the successful sites the Prime Minister added: “I am delighted that Whitehill-Bordon, St Austell, Rackheath and North West Bicester have all been chosen to be pioneers for these new green communities and I hope people will seize the opportunity to be at the forefront of Britain’s green revolution.” The Eco-town Planning Policy Statement (PPS) sets out the toughest ever sustainability standards for development and lays the foundations for further eco-town schemes to come forward.

This charity is immensely proud that the policy advocates TCPA published standards for eco-towns. By sharing best practice and new innovation, eco-towns provide the opportunity to help communities in our existing towns and cities make a more informed and strategic response to climate change and sustainable housing growth. Eco-town PPS sets out:
the planning process eco-town developers will need to follow
the eco-town standards – the standards any eco-town proposal will have to meet, such as providing a minimum amount of 40 per cent green space and 30 per cent of housing being affordable
the list of locations currently assessed as having the potential to have an eco-town
arrangements for monitoring implementation of the standards, as eco-town schemes are brought forward

Alongside the plans for eco-towns, housing minister John Healey announced tougher new energy standards for all new homes from 2016 to be zero carbon and launched a review to combine the government’s climate change and renewable energy planning policy statements. Healey said: “Planning is at the heart of delivering our ambitious climate change targets. The scale of the challenge is now clear, as is the imperative to plan and design for a low carbon economy.

We will therefore review and combine the climate change and renewable energy PPSs, consulting in detail on proposals by the end of 2009.” Both the science and solutions that relate to climate change are moving at an unprecedented pace. The current planning policy framework on climate reflects the available thinking in 2007 before the Climate Change Act it also pre-dates the UK’s commitment to producing 15 per cent of total energy from renewables by 2020 and the challenging legally-binding ‘carbon budgets’, which require a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 34 per cent by 2020 and at least 80 per cent by 2050.

Given the scale of the climate change challenge and the shift in acceptance that will be required to meet our renewable energy targets the TCPA believe that there is a clear need for updated national policy. This policy should reflect the latest climate science and provide clearer specific guidance as to the weight to be given to climate change in planning. This will demand action from local authorities and their planners at the regional, sub-regional and city scales as well as at the community and neighbourhood scale where some of the greatest opportunities exist.

That is why the TCPA are working in partnership with Friends of the Earth and a range of cross sector coalition partners to call for a new planning policy statement on climate change to help ensure that local authorities play their part in tackling climate change and that renewable energy targets are met.

The government’s commitment, both in the Renewable Energy Strategy (published on 15 July) and the announcements by the housing minister (16 July) to consult on a new combined climate change PPS by the end of 2009 are a clear indication that the government is listening to this important coalition and it is a powerful foundation for our future work.

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