In Britain, plan for carbon-neutral ‘ecotowns’ draws rural ire
The innovative proposal for ultramodern communities with solar power and subterranean recycling chutes is designed to address an acute housing shortage.
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The ecovillages will be the first towns built in Britain in 40 years – part of an overall strategy to build 3 million new homes in Britain by 2020. A final list of up to 10 sites are to be selected by 2009.Skip to next paragraph
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At least 30 percent of ecotown housing must be offered at “affordable” prices. Ecotowns must have at least 5,000 homes. Anything less, planners say, and it’s hard to sustain schools – the glue of any self-sustaining community.
The lack of such glue, particularly in the initial few years of an ecotown, is a major concern. Members of Parliament (MP) opposed to such developments say they will situate people in remote areas divorced from their place of work, meaning commuter miles will shoot up – hardly very “eco.”
They warn that communities will take years to become self-sustaining, as developers build the houses first but take much longer to add the schools, shops, and other infrastructure that binds a town together.
And they warn that legal challenges based on the argument that eco-towns have ridden roughshod over planning law will mount up, slamming the brakes on the schemes.
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Conservative MP for a constituency shortlisted for an ecotown, says that the developments should instead be “bolted on to a big city,” as in the case of a pioneering German prototype on the outskirts of Freiburg. That way, he argues, you situate people closer to employment, facilities and – crucially – public transport.
“You get all the facilities of a big city – a university, hospital, and, what’s more, you get a better community bolted on to a big city because all of their friends and relatives are nearby,” he says.
Not everyone is opposed to the idea, however. A recent government survey found people supported ecotowns by a majority of 5 to 1, though that fell to 2 to 1 when people were asked if they’d like one on their own doorstep. Friends of the Earth said eco-towns “could provide an inspiring blueprint for low-carbon living.”
High environmental standards
The developments must live up to the highest environmental standards. Housing must be carbon-neutral, with windmills and solar power providing energy.
Most ecotowns say they aspire to be “car-free,” settlements in which personal vehicles are parked on the outskirts and regular buses or trams shuttle people in to their homes.
Developments must make use of the latest efficient heating systems such as combined heat and power plants, or biomass.
One shortlisted development, at Whitehill-Bordon in southern England, claims that more than 70 percent of locals support it. But council chief executive Will Godfrey admits this is because the ecotown would be different from other projects as it would regenerate an existing town rather than build afresh on unspoiled countryside.
“You have to have a commitment to develop a town, not just build houses,” he says, adding that business must be drawn into the new town to make it self-sustaining. “At the moment, 70 percent of people commute out of the town,” he adds. “We want to create a place where people can live, work, and play in the town in which they reside.”
Conservative MP Peter Luff thinks that is fanciful. “This is an idea that will bring disaster to the people who live there because they’ll be miserably locked in these so-called ecocommunities miles from anything they actually want,” he says. “My view is that one or two should be built as pilot projects, and then see what lessons can be learned.”