Gordon Brown's Eco TownsHousing policy has taken a greener turn since Gordon Brown became Prime Minister. One of the Government’s proposed housing plans announced in the Queen’s speech in November, is the creation of ten new ‘eco-towns’ – completely sustainable and carbon neutral communities – in Brownfield sites across the UK.

But what is an eco town and what will their impact be for the environment and on the future of house building? In this article, we take a closer look.

The Government’s Housing Plans

The Government has pledged to build three million new homes by 2020 to help combat the shortage of housing supply and the lack of affordable homes – vital to help combat the increasing affordability problems faced by first-time home buyers. It therefore seems logical to combine this commitment with another government pledge: to ensure all new homes built by 2016 are carbon neutral. The creation of the new eco towns will go some way to realising these two ambitious proposals.

Energy Saving Homes

The eco towns will create 200,000 new homes, each built to high sustainable standards, with materials sourced locally and with the minimal environmental impact. Each property will be packed with energy saving features as standard, including loft and cavity wall insulation, double glazing and energy efficient appliances. It’s also hoped that each home will get the opportunity to generate their own energy using <#66#>solar panels<#> and micro wind turbines, helping to make each property zero carbon.

Renewable Energy Sources

The eco towns will be powered by local, renewable energy sources, both small and large scale. The onus will be on individuals to do their bit and create their own energy, through small wind turbines or solar panels, as well as adequate planning made for clean, renewable energy supplies. This may come in the form of wind or hydro-electric electricity, for example.

Sustainable Transport System

The eco towns will ensure that public transport systems, walking and cycling will be championed. Town centres and other areas will be fully pedestrianised, encouraging car owners to leave their vehicles at home. Cycle lanes will be allocated on all roads as standard, and bus, train and other public transport systems will be modern and use environmentally friendly technology to minimise carbon emissions.

Smarter Town Planning

Care and attention to environmental issues will be tackled at the planning stage rather than later down the line, and will form the very centre of the town ethos. The proximity of schools and local amenities to residential areas, to minimise the need for transport, will be encouraged, along with extensive recycling services and easy access to other local services. Well tended green spaces that encourage plant and wildlife will also be high priority.

Where the Eco Towns will be Located

So far, only one location for an eco town has been allocated, at a disused former army barracks site at Oakington, Cambridgeshire. Councils have been invited to bid to host one of the remaining eco towns, by submitting development plans for an appropriately sized and positioned Brownfield site. Due to higher than expected council interest – 57 applications – the original pledge for five new towns has been increased to ten. The final choices will be selected by February 2008.

The Future?

The Sustainable Development Commission has welcomed the proposals and hopes the ideas behind each of the new eco towns will feed into existing communities. Vice Chairwoman Rebecca Willis said: “The priority must be to turn our existing communities into eco-towns. Communities can be green and prosperous, with well planned public transport and great facilities.

“But the government must learn from past mistakes and put residents’ needs before commercial interests and housing targets.”