Critics slam communities department plan to get programme moving with demonstration project

The government is considering building a 100-home pilot scheme at one of the proposed eco-town sites, in an attempt to rescue the troubled programme.

The idea is one of a number being discussed at a senior level in the communities department, which has been charged with implementing Gordon Brown’s 2007 pledge to build 10 eco-towns.

A source close to the situation said: “The idea is to get something on site in a reasonably quick time, before the overall planning permission for the new settlement is agreed.”

However, critics of the programme are saying the plan has little to do with the original concept of building up to 200,000 self-contained settlements of at least 5,000 homes with their own employment, energy and transport infrastructure.

A source involved in the process said: “If this happens, it will be little more than a gesture – and it won’t be self-sustaining. How much money has been spent on this process? If the end result is 100 homes it’ll be a waste.”

The most likely candidate for the demonstration project is thought to be the Whitehill Bordon eco-town in Hampshire, in part because it adjoins an existing settlement. It is also thought that Rackheath in Norwich is a candidate.

The eco-towns have been hit by local opposition and the housing downturn, with a number of developers dropping out.

Last week, the government said six of the 11 schemes had viability problems. Sources said the final decision over which areas would get eco-towns is not now expected until June or July. Also, responsibility for the programme may pass to the Homes and Communities Agency.

The communities department declined to comment.