Two more areas propose eco-towns

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The Independent Online

Two new areas have been added to the list of proposals for a "second wave" of eco-towns, the Government said today.

Ministers also unveiled an overhaul of planning policies to help ensure green measures such as electric car charging points and renewable energy schemes get the go-ahead in new developments.

Housing and planning minister John Healey said East Devon District Council and Fareham Borough Council were interested in developing new settlements which meet standards set out for eco-towns.

The schemes, for an initial 3,500 homes in Cranbrook, east of Exeter, and at least 7,000 homes north of Fareham, Hampshire, will each receive £200,000 to develop plans for green housing and infrastructure.

They join nine local authorities already developing plans for a second wave of environmentally-friendly new settlements and sharing a £10 million pot to help them bring forward their proposals.

A further £10 million was announced for councils to train up staff to have the skills and know-how to develop environmentally-friendly housing and energy sources in the areas.

The update of planning regulations for climate change, coastal change and the natural environment will provide a "green planning rulebook" for councils to help them tackle climate change, the Communities and Local Government (CLG) department said.

Under the new planning policy for climate change, put out to consultation today, there could be requirements to reduce the need for people to travel from home to work and encourage the installation of electric car charging points.

The proposals also include a focus on better public transport, improved walking and cycling links and making it quicker and easier to approve renewable energy schemes.

The policy, coming a week after the Government launched a green homes strategy putting emphasis on the role of councils in improving energy efficiency, will allow town halls to use the planning system to establish community heating and energy sources.

Proposals for planning guidance on the natural environment include provision of "green infrastructure" including allotments, parks and street trees.

And in a bid to boost health and fitness, the guidelines would allow more sports clubs to stay open after dark with hi-tech floodlights that cut light pollution, CLG said.

A final planning policy for managing coastal change gives new powers to local communities to support their economies and lifts the blanket ban on all development along coasts at risk of erosion.

While all inappropriate development, including housing, will remain banned in areas threatened by coastal erosion, temporary development that could benefit the local community such as beach huts, car parks and cafes could be permitted.

Mr Healey said today's announcement was a "triple boost" to help councils tackle climate change.

"Overhauled planning policies will act as a new green planning rulebook and the £10 million for councils will provide training to deliver action on the ground," he said.

"The tougher, better guidelines for planning gives councils a new blueprint, reflecting the latest targets and ensuring councils put combating climate change at the heart of future development - ultimately saving people money on their bills and reducing emissions."

And he said: "I am also pleased to announce two new areas in the eco-town 'second wave'. Councils are making great progress and already highlighting where they can apply tough green standards in new development.

"This signals real and radical momentum to change and to re-think how we design our towns and homes for the future."

The 11 areas now developing plans for eco-towns with Government support form the second round of the programme, which saw four first-wave sites given the go-ahead by ministers last summer.

The eco-town project was intended to meet housing needs and tackle climate change, with as many as 10 environmentally-friendly settlements built by 2020, but has been dogged by controversy and opposition from local communities.

Fears were raised that the scheme would bypass local democracy - despite Government assurances they would still have to go through the planning process - leading to a shift in the policy favouring schemes put forward by local authorities themselves.