Only one of the 12 shortlisted eco-town sites has met the Government’s criteria, and been labelled ‘generally suitable’.

Developers and councillors have withdrawn from three of the 15 shortlisted eco-town sites, leaving 12, of which one is deemed grade A and ‘generally suitable’; 10 are grade B, suitable only ‘subject to planning and design objectives’; and Weston Otmoor in Oxfordshire was awarded the lowest grade, C, which meant it was a ‘location only likely to be suitable as an eco-town with substantial and exceptional innovation’.

Only three of the 12 eco-town sites have been backed by local councils.

Rackheath in Norwich was the only A-grade site, and is now the favourite site for an eco-town because of its proximity to Norwich and a railway line.

Margaret Beckett has delayed any annnouncement of the final shortlist until March.

Kate Gordon, senior planner for The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) said: ‘Fundamental questions need to be asked about the overall scale of the Government’s original ambitions and whether these remain realistic given current economic conditions.’

Discussing the fact that only one of the 12 shortlisted eco-towns had been labelled generally suitable, Mrs Beckett said: ‘It is vital we get the locations for these eco-towns right … I do not expect all of these locations to go forward – the eco-town standards are tough and I think some of these shortlisted schemes could struggle to meet them.’

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