Should the government go ahead with the planned construction of eco-towns?

Its (extended) consultation on the proposal to dot instantaneous green communities around the countryside is nearing a close. The feedback should make interesting reading. Nimbys are opposed to the plans for fear their countryside will be blighted; developers are desperately struggling to make the sums stack up; and environmentalists are concerned the developments will fail to match their green aspirations.

Perhaps these opponents are being short-sighted. Masterplanning of towns, and their exotic eco-city cousins, has evolved to encompass sustainability. As we report, a masterplan is no longer simply the strategic location of land use types and transport links. With the involvement of building services engineers and environmental and sustainability experts from the outset, community-wide energy, water and waste strategies can be integrated to provide a holistic, sustainable approach. The early involvement of engineers will also mean renewables can be integrated into a development to enable it to become zero carbon.

More importantly, through their involvement building services engineers can provide strategic advice on thermal masterplanning to ensure a single community’s energy system is integrated effectively into the broader area energy strategy – and this means the wider community will garner some environmental benefits from the construction of an eco-town.

We do need eco-towns. We need them to learn what future sustainable communities might look like. But we also need then for the practical experience they will provide in the specification, installation and operation of new community-based energy technologies and in particular area-wide energy networks. It is an experience we’ll miss out on if the government persists in viewing eco-towns as isolated models of green communities, instead of integrating eco-suburbs into existing communities.