Eco-Towns in England – Green or Greenwashing?

The English have embarked on a plan to create up 10 eco-towns (by 2020) selected from an original list of 57 locations (including Imery’s China Clay, Ford, Rushcliffe, Middle Quinton, Pennbury, Manby and Strubby…and many other unheard of places) dotted around the country. The list is now down to a shortlist of 15 towns from which ten would be chosen to start the program. The new towns, which would be the first new towns created in England since the 1960s as part of an effort to provide new housing developments (5,000-20,000 homes per site), are intended to be zero-carbon, water neutral and car-curbing areas. Of course, 10×20,000 is a drop in the ocean compared to the government’s stated need of 3 million new homes by 2020 (from Caroline Flint, Housing Minister). There are 700,000 people currently stuck on waiting lists for affordable housing in England. The Guardian published this rather complete article on the subject of eco-towns back in April 2008 when the shortlist was announced.

The idea is to make a living standard bearer to measure, benchmark and promote the possible eco-savings one can make in daily life. The plan calls for having at least 50 dwellings per hectare (2.5 acres) on average (100 in the centre of the town). The debate about the measurements, however, is still raging. See here in the Guardian newspaper’s article “Eco town dwellers may be monitored for green habits” (Sept 26 2008). The amount of monitoring of the eco-town dwellers is up for grabs. If you are going to have eco-towns, it makes consummate sense to have the towns be avant-garde in their means, to help mastermind innovation and, at the same time, help improve living standards (i.e. amenities, choice…) in such a CO2-reduced environment. But, considering that the existing households in England create 25% of the country’s CO2 output, there is still room to work on the existing infrastructure it would seem.

Opposition to the eco-town projects is, meanwhile, rife around the country. Housing Minister Flint’s own constituency (“Rossington”) has recently been protesting (see here Times article). Tim Henman’s father is waging a campaign against the potential invasion of 20,000 people into his local community. People are up in arms about the loss of greener pastures and living spaces in favour of urban sprawl. Others, such as Marina Pacheco, head of planning at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, wrote on Open House at the Independent, criticizing the projects as something closer to greenwashing, with too much encroachment on the greenfields.

One has to assume the residents of the eco-towns will be pure bred eco-friendly people. That said, as the new generation comes in, the town will have to create a sufficiently free system to encourage the youth – who did not originally choose this type of community or existence – to adhere to the principles. All the commerce will also have to be at the forefront of sustainable development initiatives, with a high mix of locally produced goods. It is worth noting that consumer goods account for 14% of an individual’s ecological footprint.

It will be interesting to see how this plan comes to fruition. Watch this space (assuming my blog is around in 2020!). What do you think of the eco-towns?

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