Sustainability consultants claim six-month timetable for choosing winning bidders for Gordon Brown’s 10 new towns is unrealistic

The government plans to name the 10 successful bidders for its eco-town programme in just six months, a timeframe that sustainability experts describe as “the triumph of hope over experience”.

The reaction came after Gordon Brown announced in his speech to the Labour party conference in Bournemouth this week that he intended to double the number of eco-towns from the five he pledged when he came to power in June.

Brown said: “For the first time in nearly half a century we will show the imagination to build new towns – eco-towns with low and zero-carbon homes.

“We will aim for 10 eco-towns, building thousands of new homes in every region of the country.”

Ministers later said that the surprise extension was a result of a large degree of interest from developers and local authorities in the scheme.

It is also understood that there will be a separate fund for the eco-towns, the scope of which should be announced in the autumn’s Comprehensive Spending Review.

Yvette Cooper, the housing minister, said the decision stemmed from huge demand for housing in Yorkshire and Humberside.

Major schemes of this size shouldn’t be done at breakneck speed

Richard Hodkinson

“We’ve had strong growth in the northern regions. Population is increasing, the number of households is increasing but the number of homes has not kept up. We want bids for eco-towns from every region,” she said.

Hazel Blears, the communities secretary, later hinted that the towns would not just be isolated “Milton Greens” but may expand to become eco-communities and even eco-boroughs.

It is still unclear which councils and developers will put forward sites to become eco-towns, each of which will have 10,000 homes. However, a number of large sites have been mentioned in connection with the project, including the 260ha former RAF base at Coltishall, Norfolk.

Stephen Hill, a director at sustainability consultant Beyond Green and the former boss of the high-profile Millennium Communities programme for the government, said: “I think the timetable they have set is a very tall order.

“To think that you will be able to come up with a dozen schemes in the next couple of months that will tick all the necessary boxes is a triumph of hope over experience.”

Richard Hodkinson, managing director of sustainability consultant the Richard Hodkinson Consultancy, said: “I wouldn’t have thought that the timetable of announcing this by the end of the financial year would be feasible. Major schemes of this size shouldn’t be done at breakneck speed.”

The government will seek expressions of interest by the end of next month.