That was the message of the Environment Agency as Government gave the green light to four proposed eco-towns developments on Thursday.

The EA’s head of sustainable communities, Julie Foley, told edie that she welcomed the announcement but felt that the work that had gone into developing the Planning Policy Statement (PPS) for the eco-towns could be wasted if it were not used elsewhere.

She claimed that the Growth Point initiative, a government programme that offers funding to communities wanting to ‘pursue large scale sustainable growth’ would be the ideal candidate for using at least some of these environmental standards.

The eco-towns, she pointed out, would be small communities of around 5,000 homes while the first wave of Growth Point funding would support around 100,000 and the second round looks likely to help finance a further 70,000 homes.

“That puts the eco-towns project into perspective,” she said.

“It’s very unusual to have a Planning Policy Statement developed that will apply to just four towns.”

She accepted that the eco-towns were supposed to serve as a test bed and had some very tough standards, but argued that some should be adopted for other Government-funded developments.

“This is uncharted territory really,” she said.

“It’s good to see the ambition and the attempt to do it. But whatever happens to the eco-towns project over time, it would be a shame if all the work that’s gone into developing the standards is not used more widely.

“We’re not necessarily suggesting that the Growth Points should achieve everything in the PPS,” she said.

“But there’s no reason why you can’t use some of the standards.

It might, for example, be appropriate to aim for water neutrality in one development, tackle energy use in another and make another an exemplar for waste management.

“We need to ask what’s the real ambition of Government in delivering genuinely sustainable housing? It will need to think seriously about how these will be met.”

Sam Bond

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