Another developer pulls out of eco-towns project

The government has suffered a new blow to its eco-towns programme; another developed has withdrawn from its shortlist. However, it defeated a judicial review which could have derailed the whole process.

Another developer has pulled out of the government’s eco-towns programme, reducing the number of developments being considered from 15 to 11.

O&H Properties had proposed up to 15,400 homes in Marston Vale, Bedfordshire, on a series of sites along the east-west rail line. It still wants to develop the site, but has decided to submit a planning application through the normal planning system, rather than the government’s eco-town process.

A company spokesman said the decision was made to give it more flexibility in timing the development. "It’s not a damning indictment of the process, it just doesn’t suit where we are," he said.

The Communities Department (DCLG) does not have a specific timetable for the eco-towns programme, but aims to have five developments completed by 2016. This would mean planning applications need to be submitted in the next year or two. Eco-towns are intended to be environmental exemplars, using natural resources more sustainably and curbing CO2 emissions.

The Marston Vale proposal achieved a ‘B’ rating in a sustainability appraisal of the government’s programme (ENDS Report 406, pp 40-41 ). Ten of the other eco-town proposals received a ‘B’, meaning they "might be a suitable location subject to meeting specific planning and design objectives".

O&H Properties said in a statement that sustainability would remain a "central focus" of its plans. But the spokesman said the proposal had not yet been respecified.

The O&H Properties bid at Marston Vale was separate to that of Gallagher Estates, which pulled out of the site last year. Eco-town proposals in Staffordshire, Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire have also been dropped (ENDS Report 402, pp 44-45 ).

Meanwhile, Leicestershire County Council has decided to object to the Cooperative Group’s proposal for 12,000-15,000 homes in Pennbury, Leicestershire. It is concerned about the costs of the tram service proposed for the development and its impact on local roads. It also believes the new town could damage the regeneration of Leicester, Oadby and Wigston.

The county council questions whether employers will be attracted to the location, which could result in residents having to commute to work. It also cites lack of information about water and waste management as reasons for its opposition.

The council said it objects strongly to the whole eco-towns process, as it has not followed the normal planning process and has not considered alternative locations locally.

A consultation on the government’s planning policy statement on eco-towns closes on 6 March. The DCLG wants to announce the final shortlist in late spring, after which developers can submit planning applications.

A campaign group tried to thwart the process by launching a judicial review against the DCLG’s consultation on eco-towns. But the High Court ruled in favour of the government in January. Better Accessible Responsible Development (BARD) opposed proposals for an eco-town at Long Marston in Warwickshire. At least 6,000 homes are planned for the former Ministry of Defence site.

But Mr Justice Walker found that the 2007 housing Green Paper and the accompanying "Eco-towns Prospectus" gave enough information on the proposals and made it clear the criteria they would be assessed against would be subject to consultation.

BARD also claimed that the eco-towns process was an attempt to outflank the planning system. Mr Justice Walker judged that the publication of a planning policy statement on eco-towns meant the government was "using, not outflanking, the planning system".

David Bliss, chairman of the BARD campaign, said: "We are disappointed, but this is by no means the end of the road for BARD’s challenges to the Middle Quinton proposal.

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