The Government has announced four sites that will become eco-towns as part of its scaled-down plans, despite widespread opposition.

Rackheath in Norfolk, north-west Bicester in Oxfordshire, Whitehill Bordon in East Hants and the China Clay Community near St Austell, Cornwall will be the test sites for Gordon Brown’s plans to create thousands of homes in carbon-neutral communities.

However, both the Norfolk and the Cornwall sites must still go through the planning process. Earlier in the week, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) expressed concerns that the Government announcement was a challenge to the planning-led process.

The four named sites will be able to bid for a share of £60 million in Government support for local infrastructure, and construction should be under way by 2016, later than originally envisaged by the Government. Housing minister John Healey is making £5 million available to councils to conduct planning work on a second wave of at least six further eco-towns.

Gordon Brown, who initially raise the number of eco-towns from five to 10 in 2007, said: ‘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.’

But Grant Shapps, the shadow housing minister, has strongly criticised the Government’s plans: ‘The Conservatives will support genuinely environmentally friendly housing schemes that have local support. But Gordon Brown’s so-called revolutionary eco-town programme is an eco-con, mired in controversy.

‘Underneath the thick layers of greenwash, many of these schemes are unsustainable, unviable and unpopular, but Gordon Brown wants to impose them from Whitehall irrespective of local opinion. All the low-flush toilets in world can’t make dumping a housing estate on green fields somehow eco-friendly.

‘At best, this scheme is a distraction from the more important task of reducing carbon emissions from our existing housing stock. At worst, it’s a discredited gimmick from a discredited Government that’s run out of ideas and run out of steam.’

Government documents reveal that parking in one of the eco-town car parks could cost residents as much as £12,500 per month. Mr Shapps has labelled this a ‘parking tax’, and claims that the eco-towns are being used by Mr Brown to test ‘new taxes and charges on local residents, from bin taxes to massive parking fees’. He feared that if the charges were successful, these ‘stealth’ taxes could be introduced on all new housing developments.

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