Planners say proposal is sound for scheme that will keep New Labour initiative alive

Housebuilder Barratt is on the brink of signing a deal with local authorities around Norwich to build homes that keep alive New Labour’s dream of eco-towns.

Barratt is behind the proposed 4,000-home Rackheath eco-town five miles outside the city, which was this week declared sound in principle by planners, meaning the government will not intervene to hold up the development.

Barratt is set to sign a deal in the next month for a 200-home exemplar scheme that will demonstrate what the eco-town will be like, before deciding whether to press ahead with the whole scheme.

When former prime minister Gordon Brown entered office, he announced that 10 eco-towns, with at least 200,000 homes, would be built by 2015. However the change of government, cancellation of regional plans, and recession have meant none have got off the ground.

Phil Courtier, head of planning for Broadland council, said: “We’re in the latter stages of agreeing a joint venture agreement with Barratt and the landowner Manor Farms to take the exemplar scheme forward.”

The deal could mean the council would take on the freehold of the site, with Barratt given a licence to build the homes. It is understood talks are ongoing over whether the freehold may ultimately be handed over to a community interest group.

This week the Planning Inspectorate declared the joint core strategy by Broadland, Norwich and South Norfolk councils to be sound. This ensures the housing growth in the area, including the eco-town, is allowed to go ahead. The councils have backed the growth strategy despite the removal of government housing targets.

Paul Knowles, director of Building Partnerships at Barratt, said: “We expect Rackheath to play an integral part in helping Norfolk take a lead in the development of greener homes and lifestyles.”

However, the final future of the full eco-town is still uncertain. Courtier said: “The political and economic climate means it is not deliverable in the short term.”