A 650-home flagship zero-carbon development on government land has been put on hold because of the worsening recession

The Bickershaw Colliery scheme near Wigan was to have been the third of the Carbon Challenge sites promoted by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) to pilot zero-carbon building.

However, the government withdrew its tender notice for private partners last week. The HCA says the scheme is now under review and may ultimately have to go ahead without initially meeting the zero-carbon standard.

The 18.3ha site was opened to developer bidding through a competitive dialogue process by regional quango the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) for the HCA in March last year. But the NWDA emailed developers on 3 February to say the project was not going ahead.

The Carbon Challenge was designed to get developers to meet level 6 of the Code for Sustainable Homes – equivalent to zero carbon – in advance of a 2016 legal requirement.

The scheme may have to go ahead without initially meeting the zero-carbon standard

A previous 344-home Carbon Challenge scheme in South Bank, Peterborough, developed by a consortium led by social housing provider Gentoo, had to have the equivalent of a £16m public sector subsidy, with three bidders pulling out.

In a joint statement, the HCA and NWDA admitted the scheme was under review because of “issues” including “the financial viability of the project”. They said they would restart a developer selection process this summer.

They added that the aim was still to build a zero-carbon development, but that the process might have to be “flexible in terms of seeking bids which incorporate Code for Sustainable Homes level 6 homes” given the market conditions.