Eco-town policy issued in shadow of legal challenge

The government issued its draft eco-town planning policy statement (PPS) and sustainability appraisal this week although it runs the risk of being found unlawful.

In September, SJ Berwin head of planning Simon Ricketts was granted a judicial review of the government's selection process on behalf of campaigners against the proposed Middle Quinton scheme in Warwickshire.

The DCLG has published the documents before a date is set for legal proceedings. On granting the judicial review, Mr Justice Collins said there is little point in pursuing the eco-town programme until the claim is resolved.

Ricketts said responding to the consultation process could be a waste of time because if the legal challenge proves successful the draft PPS will be defunct.

He added that he recently received an assurance from the government's solicitor that if communities secretary Hazel Blears were to publish the draft PPS and related material before the court case is concluded, the consultation period on Middle Quinton would be extended for six weeks after the outcome of the case.

But a DCLG spokesman maintained: "We have acted properly and will defend this claim vigorously."

Town and Country Planning Association chief executive Gideon Amos said: "The consultation provides the opportunity for everyone to have their say in a debate too frequently dominated by those shouting the loudest against specific eco-towns."

The shortlist has altered considerably since it was first published in April, with some schemes dropping out and others emerging. The council-backed Rackheath proposal has overtaken Coltishall on the greater Norwich ticket and is the only scheme of the shortlisted 12 given a grade A rating in the sustainability appraisal.

The majority of the sites achieve grade B, meaning that they "would be suitable for eco-towns, subject to meeting specific planning and design objectives". But Weston Otmoor in Oxfordshire is rated grade C, or only likely to "be suitable for an eco-town with substantial exceptional innovation".

Campaigners against the latter "cautiously" celebrated the addition of Cherwell District Council's plans for 5,000 houses in north-west Bicester as an alternative.

The DCLG has agreed to pursue separately plans for green urban extensions in the Leeds city-region rather than an individual eco-town (Planning, 17 October, p2).

The PPS sets out green standards, including achieving zero carbon status across all buildings and earmarking 40 per cent of the area for green space. The second round of consultation runs until 19 February.

The PPS and sustainability appraisals are available at


Site Grade
Rackheath A
Middle Quinton B
Newton-Bingham (Rushcliffe) B
Ford, West Sussex B
Bordon-Whitehill B
St Austell China Clay Community B
Rossington B
North-east Elsenham B
Pennbury B
Marston Vale B
Weston Otmoor C
North West Bicester
- alternative to Weston Otmoor B

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