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Planning: Eco-towns

Volume 712: debated on Thursday 16 July 2009


My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning (Mr John Healey MP) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Yesterday, the Government published their low carbon transition plan. To respond to the challenge of climate change, we need to become a low carbon country, achieving an 80 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

We must also meet the challenge to build more homes, so that everyone has a decent, secure and affordable home.

To deliver both we need to change the way that we plan, design and build homes for the future. More than a quarter of Britain’s carbon emissions come from our homes. We will need to reduce emissions from existing homes. The Government announced important measures to do so yesterday and we will set out more later this year. But one in three of Britain’s homes in 2050 will be built between now and then. We need to make sure that our homes in future are cleaner, greener and cheaper to run from the outset.

Today I am reconfirming the Government’s policy that all new homes will be zero carbon from 2016 and announcing further details on the definition and standards we will legislate for.

New buildings are only part of the answer for a low carbon and sustainable future. A differently planned and more sustainable built environment can encourage more sustainable ways of living.

Today I am publishing the planning policy statement which sets out the highest ever standards for green living, announcing the first four pioneering locations for eco-towns in England and offering government support to work with a further six second-wave areas.

By radically rethinking how we design, plan and build we can create zero carbon developments which combine affordable housing with green infrastructure, greater energy efficiency and a higher quality of life.

To support the low carbon transition plan and its route map to carbon reduction, today I am also announcing that we will review and combine the climate change and renewable energy policy planning statements (PPS) consulting in detail on proposals before the end of the year.

Zero Carbon Homes

In July 2007, we announced that all homes would be zero carbon from 2016. In December 2008, we published a consultation on the definitions of zero carbon. I am announcing today details of the definition that will apply.

A zero carbon home is one whose net carbon dioxide emissions, taking account of emissions associated with all energy use in the home, is equal to zero or negative across the year. Our definition of energy use will cover both energy uses currently regulated by the building regulations and other energy used in the home.

Homes meeting the new requirements will be cheaper to run because of high energy efficiency requirements, and occupants will be less vulnerable to rising gas and electricity prices. These homes will have better controls, including smart meters, so that people can more easily manage and reduce energy use. Technology for people to generate their own low carbon heat and electricity, with payments for surpluses, will be designed and built into new zero carbon homes or developments as a matter of course.

Zero carbon homes will be designed and built to be highly energy efficient. Our consultation quoted two standards to illustrate our ambitions in this area. Respondents welcomed the proposition that energy efficiency should be the first priority, although many argued that the standards quoted were not suitable as a minimum regulatory standard to apply to every new home in England and that we do not have an appropriate established energy efficiency standard for the purpose of zero carbon homes. I accept this.

I am therefore setting up a specialist task group, reporting to me in the autumn to examine the energy efficiency metrics and standards which will realise our ambition of the highest practical energy efficiency level realisable in all dwelling types. Following the task group’s report, I intend to announce decisions on a clear new standard by the end of this year.

The net emissions of the home, taking account of its energy efficiency and on-site energy supply (including, where relevant, connections to heat networks) will meet a minimum carbon compliance standard—in effect a regulatory level of carbon reduction to be achieved on-site compared to today’s regulations.

I have decided to set that level to be as ambitious as possible for on-site carbon mitigation, while being technically achievable. This will therefore be 70 per cent of regulated energy use, based on the assumptions laid out in our consultation document. We will consider updating this as necessary in light of technical changes, such as developments to the standard assessment procedure energy assessment tool, to maintain this overall level of ambition and provide continued certainty to industry.

I can also confirm that new support for small-scale renewable heat and electricity generation through the renewable heat incentive and clean energy cash back will be available for on-site renewables in zero carbon homes, making these homes more attractive to occupants and potentially reducing the net costs faced by developers.

Any carbon not mitigated on site will be dealt with through a range of good quality allowable solutions. The allowable solutions will cover carbon emitted from the home for 30 years after build. Responses to the consultation took different views about some of the solutions suggested. I have decided to indicate now those approaches that commanded broad support. We will consider with stakeholders the practical arrangements that would be required to permit them to be put in place and to ensure that standards are achieved in practice. I will announce decisions by the end of this year. Those that received broad support are:

further carbon reductions on site beyond the regulatory standard;

energy efficient appliances meeting a high standard which are installed as fittings within the home;

advanced forms of building control system which reduce the level of energy use in the home;

exports of low carbon or renewable heat from the development to other developments;

investments in low and zero carbon community heat infrastructure;

other allowable solutions remain under consideration.

The wider policies supporting distributed energy will continue to develop over the coming years. Our consultation suggested setting a guideline maximum price we expect industry to bear in implementing allowable solutions. In the light of responses, I intend to do so following further work on costs. For the purposes of the impact assessment published today, I have included costs of allowable solutions up to the central option in our consultation of £100 per tonne of carbon dioxide, reflecting the cost of off-site renewable electricity.

Government will support industry as it responds to this challenge. Budget 2009 announced that the Government will report at the 2009 Pre-Budget Report on progress and set out the strategy to support a timely and effective housing supply response through the recovery, in order to maximise delivery of high-quality, energy-efficient homes, supporting our long-term housing supply and environmental objectives. As part of this, the Government will identify, working with industry and other partners, the best regulatory and policy framework to support the Government's long-term housing objectives. In making the announcement today, I am making clear the priority the Government attach to tackling climate change over other potential demands on land values. We will examine the cumulative impact and costs of our existing regulatory policies and proposals that potentially affect land value including current implementation plans in the round in the context of the PBR work, taking the zero carbon policy into account.

Industry will need to develop innovative design and building technologies and techniques, and to support these efforts government will work closely with the industry:

The Technology Strategy Board is working with partners to enable it to harness the market for environmentally sustainable buildings, since 2004 investing £46 million in this area. Under its low impact buildings innovation platform a further total of £50 million is now earmarked for allocation to research relevant to new build by 2011. This includes over £30 million of capability building work to be awarded over the next two years and up to £8.5 million in new build demonstration programmes;

The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) has a carbon challenge programme which aims to accelerate the home building industry’s response to climate change by building homes that reach level 6 of the Code for Sustainable Homes. Four new communities are planned which will together provide around 1,700 zero carbon, highly sustainable demonstration homes;

I am today announcing with the HCA support for the first schemes under the £21 million low carbon community heating initiative fund, launched in Budget 2009. Schemes will be supported in Exeter, Nottingham, Milton Keynes, Southampton, Birmingham and Newcastle.


Eco-towns respond to the demand to build more homes and to live in a more sustainable way. By radically rethinking how we design, plan and build our homes, we can create zero carbon developments which combine affordable housing, environmental sensitivity, and outstanding quality. Eco-towns will pioneer genuinely sustainable living setting standards that will need to be followed more widely to deal with the challenge of climate change.

The new eco-town planning policy statement (PPS) that I am publishing today sets out the highest ever standards for green living, and linked to it I can announce the first four pioneer locations for England’s Eco-towns. These are: Whitehill-Bordon, St Austell (Clay Country), Rackheath (Norwich) and NW Bicester, all led or strongly supported by their local authorities who can see both the potential for their new eco-town and the benefit for existing communities in regeneration, higher quality jobs and new green infrastructure. Each of these four locations has the capacity to link well into existing development, as well as the scale to function as a new settlement. None are self-contained developments in the middle of the countryside.

These locations will receive continuing government support including a share of a special £60 million growth fund to support local infrastructure.

Alongside the new eco-towns PPS I am publishing a series of documents which demonstrate the detailed work and assessment on which my decisions today are based. These are:

an update of the sustainability appraisal;

a sustainability statement;

an impact assessment;

summary of responses to the consultation on the draft PPS;

a location decision statement.

I am placing copies in the Library of the House.

However the PPS is a statement about potential. The decision on whether or not the eco-town schemes go ahead is for the local planning authority. Schemes can be considered in local plans and will be the subject of individual planning applications, and local consultation, which will be decided on their merits by the local authority.

In addition to the first four pioneering locations in the PPS we have said we want to see up to 10 eco-towns by 2020, so I am making the offer to work with and help fund a further six local authorities in developing proposals through regional and local plans. We have offered additional support to two authorities where proposals were not sufficiently advanced to be included in the PPS—Uttlesford and Doncaster—to enable them to take forward these locations through their local plans if this is the preferred option they choose to pursue. I have set aside £5 million to support these and other areas to carry out further assessment and technical work including potential future locations to come through plans in other regions.

The eco-towns concept—more sustainable living in new communities—has attracted real interest. When a whole community is planned at this scale (5,000 homes is broadly the size necessary to support a secondary school) there is an opportunity to completely rethink how transport, employment, retail and other services are provided as well as designing housing to exemplary standards. In practice this means features such as smart homes with remote control of heating and ventilation, real-time information on available transport, state of the art provision for home working, including high-quality broadband.

The PPS I am publishing today sets out for the highest standards for green living ever set. Eco-town developments must be able to demonstrate essential features to achieve the highest levels of sustainability. Examples of the PPS standards include ensuring:

zero carbon status across all the town's buildings, including commercial and public buildings as well as homes—a significantly tougher threshold than any existing or agreed targets;

40 per cent of the area within the town to be green space, at least half of which should be open to the public as parks or recreation areas;

a minimum of one job per house can be reached by walking, cycling or public transport to reduce dependence on the car;

all homes are located within 10 minutes’ walk of frequent public transport and everyday neighbourhood services;

smart, efficient, affordable homes taking their energy from the sun, wind and earth.

Eco-towns offer great potential to test a wide range of innovative and emerging technologies because of the scale of the projects. To ensure we make the most of these opportunities, and to support business innovation, the Technology Strategy Board will work with the selected eco-towns to capture this potential. The Technology Strategy Board will look to co-ordinate and align with the work on eco-towns a range of activities drawing on current investments worth over £200 million through innovation platforms in the areas of low-impact buildings, intelligent transport systems and services and low carbon vehicles and its programmes in the area of energy generation and supply and advanced materials.

Eco-towns can play a leading role in the development of electric cars through building in infrastructure such as charging points as a standard provision in all major public and services buildings. We will work with all the eco-town locations to develop their potential for supporting this technology and in piloting the next generation of electric and hybrid cars.

Eco-towns will be major building projects which could employ large numbers of local people, many new to the sector and who will require training in the industry. They offer an opportunity to ensure that existing skills are upgraded to deliver the low carbon built environment and equip the construction workers of the future with the skills in sustainable design and building. Where public funds are committed, public sector agencies will look to use clauses in delivery contracts to ensure a proportion of apprenticeships are offered and these are green skills apprenticeships.

Eco-towns can pilot and test new ways of delivering public services, as well as making them more sustainable and responsive to climate change, such as new and innovative schools to meet the needs of new and existing residents. The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) will support eco-towns to ensure the design of schools, including travel to them, and the delivery of play and youth services and facilities are both innovative and sustainable. We will work closely with the promoters of eco-towns and the relevant local authorities to look at how best to meet those needs with the aim of ensuring that each of the eco-towns has a zero carbon school in place by 2013.

We want schools to be sustainable socially as well as environmentally. By 2010 all schools should be providing access to extended services for children and families. Eco-towns in particular should explore opportunities for co-locating children’s and other support services alongside schools for example through Sure Start children’s centres which bring together childcare, early education, health and family support services.

Eco-towns will be designed as healthy and sustainable environments encouraging healthy living for all through active design principles, community involvement and encouraging healthy behaviours. The Department of Health will work with other government departments and associated research bodies in seeking to achieve a zero carbon standard for health and social care facilities in the eco-towns.

Eco-towns also need to be sustainable travel towns, demonstrating how using smarter choices can secure significant increases in cycling, walking and public transport. All the homes in the demonstration projects should have secure cycle storage designed in from the outset.

Good transport links are essential to the success of any new community. Three of the four eco-town locations I am announcing today are well located for rail transport. For the fourth, Bordon, I am announcing funding support for the next stage of feasibility work, working with Hampshire County Council, to establish if restoration of a rail link can be achieved sustainably and subject to a sound business case.

We want nature to be at the very heart of eco-towns and the development process will be used to restore wildlife habitats and weave the living landscape back together. We expect the eco-towns to become working demonstrations of the ways that biodiversity can contribute to safe, healthy and prosperous communities. Biodiversity projects are being developed at all four locations, and include the potential to work with the Eden Project team.

Eco-towns are large developments which will require all parts of the public sector to work together, and close working relations between local and central government. I therefore propose to invite each of the eco-town local authorities to look at how their LAA could provide a suitable framework for planning future service provision and delivery in and around the eco-town area, for example through a stronger focus on a lower-tier local authority within the LAA arrangement or sub-area locality agreement.

I propose to establish a formal relationship between local and central government, in an arrangement based on the model of multi-area agreements (MAA), to negotiate the freedoms and flexibilities eco-town areas will need to realise their aspirations. I wish also to offer certainty that central government is willing to work closely with the local authority and local communities to make the most of their new eco town opportunities.

In addition I am asking the Homes and Communities Agency to provide support, expertise and advice to local partners and I expect the HCA’s first step to be inclusion of the four eco-town locations in the first wave of single conversations between the agency and local authorities, with the agency assessing the detailed proposals as they come forward from the promoters in each location, and advising each location on funding, including growth funding. Providing there are proposals which represent good quality and value for money and are deliverable within a mixed community context, provision of affordable housing support in these locations will be presented by HCA as a regional priority in the allocation of resources from the National Affordable Housing Programme.

The eco-town locations I am announcing today all have existing communities close by or within the area and I want them to benefit from their new eco-towns. We will therefore be inviting existing communities in the first eco-town locations to participate in the Green villages, towns and cities challenge for communities announced in the DECC low carbon transition plan published yesterday. In total, 15 communities will be selected to participate as test-hubs, with local residents, businesses, and the public sector playing a leading role.

The need to develop thriving and sustainable communities able to take a strong role in shaping their community is at the heart of the eco-town concept. To support community anchor organisations in taking a leading role in shaping the eco-town proposals, and subject to local proposals, Government will invite eco-town pilot projects to apply for support within the £70 million Community Builders Fund for community organisations, including for the purchase of community assets.

We have been well served by the Eco-towns Challenge Panel of independent experts and we want to maintain the creative contribution that independent professionals can make through the CABE design review process, CABE design support at local level, and the continuation of an independent advisory panel as the eco-town schemes are developed.

Despite the difficult current market conditions caused by the recession I expect 10,000 homes built by 2016 of which 30 per cent will be affordable. To start this process we will support early demonstrator buildings to test and develop from the new technologies needed, and so that local communities can help shape their further development. For the next two years I am providing £60 million start-up funding from the growth fund for this work for the four locations identified today. This is additional to mainstream funding for services. We expect that the bulk of investment in these schemes will be from the private sector, but eco-towns will also benefit from similar levels of public investment to any comparable large housing scheme and this will include continued growth funding over the period of major development.


With the new PPS, eco-towns set the gold standard in development planning, but low carbon living means planning for all new development to cut carbon emissions.

Our climate change planning policy statement (PPS) published in December 2007 has put climate change at the heart of what is expected from good planning and complemented our earlier PPS on renewable energy. Neither now fully reflects the scale of the challenge we face. But neither fully reflects the scale of the challenge we now face in supporting the UK’s transition to a low carbon country. We will therefore review and combine them, consulting in detail on proposals later this year.