Northstowe to be ‘nowhere near’ zero carbon

Gordon Brown’s proposed eco-town in Cambridgeshire, which he has made the centrepiece of his Labour leadership campaign, is not going to meet tough green standards, Building can reveal.

Gordon Brown

Brown announced that he would build five towns in a drive to increase housing supply while raising sustainability standards. The first of these to be a development at Northstowe on the outskirts of Cambridge.

The towns are expected to be built to zero-carbon standards, with energy supplies generated locally from sustainable sources. However, a source close to the 10,000-home Northstowe project said standards were likely to be lower than Brown has promised.

A member of the development team at developer Gallagher Estates also conceded that it may fail some eco-tests. He said: “The scheme has to be technically feasible and financially viable. We need to get on with supplying homes.

“We are not rejecting this in principle but you have to apply sustainability principles to projects on an individual basis, especially on PPP projects like this, to see what levels can actually be promoted.”

The development team has been aware of the government’s plans to make Northstowe an “exemplar” sustainable development since an announcement by Yvette Cooper, the housing minister, in March 2006.

Another source added: “I don’t think it’s going to come anywhere near. There is bound to be a lot of waffle about ‘future proofing’ but to meet zero-carbon targets, this needs to be included at the masterplanning stage.

“There are people involved in the joint venture development team who are prepared to skimp on sustainability standards because they think they will get a higher land value.”

The development team told Building it would adhere to standards in the Northstowe Area Action Plan (NAAP), a document produced for the new town.

However, the NAAP, which was released last week, requires that only one-fifth of the energy in the development come from renewable sources, not all of the energy supplied, as Brown announced.

Plans for a 16-turbine wind farm less than a mile away from the proposed new town, which could have helped power the development, were recently turned down by the government’s planning inspectorate, following fierce local opposition.

Gallagher has been working on plans for the new town at Northstowe for more than four years. It first submitted an outline planning application in July 2005. This was subsequently withdrawn because the government demanded a higher density of homes.

English Partnerships became involved when it bought the RAF’s disused Oakington barracks site for £100m in March 2006.

Meanwhile the planning white paper is due to be published next week. It is expected to propose the following measures:

  • Planning-free zones for the eco new towns
  • A presumption in favour of development
  • An independent commission on infrastructure projects
  • Abandonment of the retail needs test
  • A fast-track for domestic planning applications like extensions.