Green light for show homes to sell eco-town project

Government to fund construction of 100 state-of-the-art houses to show public that environment-friendly estates really can work
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One hundred "eco-show homes" are to be built to allow people to "test drive" green living as ministers try to convince the public that controversial eco-towns can work.

This week the Housing minister, John Healey, will announce the start of building work on the properties in towns near to the four sites earmarked for Britain's first zero-carbon developments. Work will start next year on a further 10,000 eco-homes that will be for sale in the areas.

Despite anticipated scepticism from local residents, families will be given a glimpse of a state-of-the-art green lifestyle, as the show homes will be fitted with smart meters, electric car charging points, solar-heated water tanks and water-saving and composting systems.

The Government has faced criticism for pushing ahead with eco-towns despite claims they are little more than "green-wash". But ministers believe that once people view at close hand the show homes, and see how money can be saved on energy bills, there will be enthusiasm for the project. While most of the show homes will be sold, some will remain open to the public as community facilities.

Mr Healey is expected to say this week: "This is a massive boost for the first wave eco-town sites so they can get their ideas off the ground and introduce green living to thousands of residents in the local areas.

"Building green homes and preparing communities for the eco-living will not only teach us valuable lessons for how we plan, design and build for our new towns, but contributes to our national crusade to drive down emissions and tackle climate change."

Some 90 existing homes, and a number of schools and libraries, in the eco-town areas will be "retrofitted" with insulation and green technology. All homes will be within 10 minutes' walk of public transport links and shops.

One of Gordon Brown's first announcements on becoming Prime Minister in 2007 was for 100,000 homes to be built across five eco-towns. But progress has been slow in the face of residents' protests, and the size of the developments has been scaled down.

Last year, Mr Healey announced the first four sites, from an original shortlist of 15, would be in Whitehill-Bordon in Hampshire, St Austell in Cornwall, Rackheath in Norfolk and North West Bicester in Oxfordshire. There will be just 10,000 homes in total, for 30,000 people, within five years, rather than the 100,000. A third will be classed as affordable homes.

Construction of the show homes, plus the first 500 houses in the eco-towns is expected to cost £60m.

Councils will present their master plans for the eco-towns over the next few months which will be put to public approval and planning permission. All of the homes will be built by local workers trained to fit environmentally friendly technology.

The Government announced a second wave of eco-towns last autumn, which it hopes will be finished by 2020.