Eco-town initiative misses opportunity

While housing minister Caroline Flint's revelation that 20 per cent of the Government's eco-towns are to be given over to public green space is welcome (news, p3), the figure is nothing like enough to support the Government's grand claim that - in green space terms at least - the projects are in any way groundbreaking.

An open-space allocation of 20 per cent in a new development is indeed regarded as the current norm. By contrast, English Partnerships' scheme for Northstowe, Cambridgeshire - not one of the Government's eco-towns and due for construction next year - promises to be genuinely groundbreaking - with an open-space allocation of at least one third of the total site.

The eco-towns standard appears in a progress report announced by Flint last week as the Government struggles to curb the growing tide of criticism of its initiative from a variety of quarters.

The message the minister was seeking to get across was that new standards being issued for the eco-towns would ensure high levels of green space, affordable housing and transport links, once the Government's much trumpeted schemes make it out of the ground.

The truth remains, however, that while the eco-towns projects might be regarded as the UK's attempt to get into the spirit of the green city movement across the Channel, they are in fact only serving to highlight just how far behind our colleagues in Germany, Holland and elsewhere the UK remains.

Back in April when the Government launched its shortlist of 15 sites that could go on to be developed as eco-towns, horticulture and landscaping professionals warned that the priority given to green space would be critical if the Government was to achieve its climate-change objectives.

The latest progress update strongly suggests that this warning has yet to be heeded if the eco-town projects are to serve as the inspiration for sustainable development across the UK.

At the next round of consultation in September, ministers would do well to consider the genuinely innovative thinking coming from within the horticulture and landscaping sectors that are grappling with climate change.


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