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Eco-towns are in the wrong places, report claims

The government’s proposed eco-towns are in the wrong locations, and the whole initiative should be renamed if it is to be successful, says a report released this week.

Eco Towns and Beyond, a paper written by housing specialist PRP Architects, urban designer Urbed and lobby group Design for Homes, says the government should reconsider its decision to site eco-towns in rural locations only and concentrate on urban extensions with existing planning permissions.

Andy von Bradsky, chairman of PRP, said: ‘There are a lot of places, which have got a consent, where housebuilders can’t move forward because of their own market issues. Ought we not to be looking to those places, instead of new ones? That seems to be a more logical position in the context of a changed economy.’

The report, which takes lessons from European eco-developments such as Hammarby Sjöstad in Stockholm, recommends placing eco-towns on brownfield sites with existing planning permissions.

‘The cost of getting infrastructure into [eco-towns], and the carbon emissions in terms of transport to and from them, raise a whole series of questions around the locations,’ said von Bradsky. ‘If you have an urban extension you don’t have to pay for new everything.’

The eco-towns effort has been beset by the crashing residential market, local opposition in areas in which they are proposed and unfavourable comparisons with post-war New Towns.

Von Bradsky also questioned the name of the initiative. ‘The term eco-towns is an unfortunate one, because you should be applying the same principles to any large-scale development,’ he said.

Report co-author and Urbed director Nicholas Falk said: ‘Successful European eco-towns are closely linked to thriving urban conurbations, where there is a demand for housing. None of the projects we looked at are standalone settlements.’

Consultant Pricewaterhouse-Coopers is also carrying out research into the procurement and funding models of eco-developments outside the UK in order to look at more commercially viable alternatives to the British model. Its final conclusions will be released in September.

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