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Common sense finally prevails in Eco-Towns announcement

16 July 2009

Today's announcement of a new planning policy statement for Eco Towns and a raft of related green development initiatives represent a significant effort by the government to respond to concerns raised by the planning and development sectors and local communities alike. But measures to monitor and manage transport-related carbon emissions still lack rigour.

RTPI Policy Director Rynd Smith said, 'When the Eco Towns programme was first announced, it rightly caused consternation amongst communities, who saw new towns being parachuted in to local areas with little community involvement in their location, and little demonstration that they would be innovatively green. Today's announcement puts much of that concern to rest and demonstrates that the government has listened.'

Today's announcement responds to RTPI and widespread community concerns in the following ways:

  • Four out of the fifteen proposed Eco Towns are to proceed. These are distinguished by their low environmental impacts and, most importantly, by the support that exists for them in local communities and in plans prepared by those communities. Proposals that led to significant environmental concerns and lacked community support have not been supported.
  • Any additional Eco Towns will emerge through a debate with local communities, fostered through the existing plan-making process. This emphasises the power that good plan-making has to build community support for necessary change.
  • The government has recognised that a much wider push is required to update and develop its existing climate change planning policies.

Building Eco Towns will never be more than a small piece in the jigsaw of responding to climate change. This is why the Royal Town Planning Institute called on the government to develop integrated eco standards for green communities, whether these were new towns, urban expansions, or projects to deliver raised density within existing urban areas. This exercise would refresh its existing spatial policies for eco development and renewable energy and link these to the Code for Sustainable Homes and the zero carbon homes and non domestic buildings initiatives to create a systematic body of standards and policies. Most importantly, it would examine ways in which planning and design can make the existing building stock more sustainable.

The RTPI strongly welcomes Housing and Planning Minister John Healey's announcement of a systematic review of existing planning policies for green communities and looks forward to participating in that review.

However, key elements of the new Eco Towns planning policy statement are still not as green as they could be.

'The RTPI challenged the government to adopt a zero carbon definition for Eco Towns that would take account of the transport emissions generated by the towns' said Smith.

'Whilst the new transport standards require planning applications to demonstrate how trips will be made by non-car means and how the carbon impacts of Eco Town transport proposals will be monitored, they do not set an overall carbon budget objective for transport. The RTPI is concerned that transport emissions will not be managed as rigorously as they should be – which is a major concern when free standing new towns are to be built.'