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Eco-towns: Nature Conservation

Volume 479: debated on Monday 1 September 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (1) by what means the Eco Towns Challenge Panels plans to take account of expertise in biodiversity and wildlife management and protection in the course of its work; (219527)

(2) what steps she is taking to ensure that the establishment and development of eco-towns does not undermine the preservation and protection of biodiversity.

The preservation of important wildlife and landscape assets is one of the key criteria for new eco-towns. The Eco-town Challenge Panel is an independent group of people with expertise in various aspects of urban and sustainable development. The Panel exists to encourage bidders by challenging them to improve and develop their proposals to the point where they can be regarded as truly exemplary projects, which fit well within their surroundings, demonstrate innovative approaches to sustainable development and represent a ‘step change’ beyond what would currently be regarded as best practice. Of the members of the Challenge Panel, three are experts in environmental issues.

Natural England, Government's agency working to conserve, enhance and manage the natural environment, was fully involved in the initial assessment and shortlisting of the eco-town proposals. Furthermore, there will shortly be a second Government consultation on a sustainability appraisal, which provides a more detailed assessment of locations, and a draft Planning Policy Statement, before we identify a final list. These locations will then need to go through the planning process and be subject to full public scrutiny, where impacts on biodiversity and natural assets will be key considerations at all stages.

The sustainability appraisal will consider the environmental, economic and social impacts of eco-towns policy both nationally and in the proposed locations. This will take account of work that local authorities may have already undertaken to test development options in their area and as part of the testing process we will also consider the habitats directive.