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Unpopular eco-communities pushed forward

Despite strong local opposition, housing minister John Healey is expected to unveil which eco-communities will go ahead this week, with three rumoured to be on the shortlist.

Mr Healey told the House of Commons last week that he expects to make an announcement on the scheme to build environmentally friendly communities before MPs begin their summer break on July 21.

Two shortlisted developments, Rackheath near Norwich and St Austell in Cornwall, are rumoured to be two of the 12 proposed sites that will be taken forward. The decision will be a blow to local householders, who have voiced fears that nearby villages will be swamped and traffic increased.

A Communities and Local Government department assessment published last year found only one of the 12—Rackheath—was suitable. Of the remaining sites, 10 were deemed potentially suitable, and Weston Otmoor in Oxfordshire was said to be suitable only with ‘substantial and exceptional innovation’.

The St Austell site has backing from local politicians, but the Campaign to Protect Rural England has argued that the plans are ‘inappropriate’, pointing out that transport links are sparse and that the project will be ‘doomed to failure’ unless jobs are created for the thousands of new inhabitants.

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Gordon Brown originally promised to build 10 ‘eco-towns’ with up to 200,000 carbon-neutral homes, but the 15-strong shortlist has been repeatedly whittled down as several projects withdrew or were hit by the housing slump. The Rackheath site was a late entry last year, and not even on the original list for consideration.

Many of the proposed sites have triggered protests from high-profile figures. Tony Henman, father of tennis player Tim, opposes a development close to his village of Weston-on-the-Green, Oxfordshire. He said: ‘Gordon Brown said he’d be a listening Prime Minister, and if he’s only got to listen a little bit he’ll realise that he’s got a thoroughly bad idea—unrealistic, unsustainable and definitely not wanted.’

Conservative shadow housing minister Grant Shapps claimed the ‘small print’ of the Government’s draft legislative programme, published last week, revealed that plans for eco-towns had now been ‘pushed back to 2020’. He labelled the eco-town programme a ‘shambles’, said developers were ‘running scared’ and called for the Government to scrap the ‘unpopular’ scheme.

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