Government grants funds for 600 homes, but fears persist over feasibility of programme

The government has allocated £60m to four eco-town sites selected last year, despite continued concerns over the viability of the programme and the public’s appetite for low-carbon housing.

John Healey, the housing minister, said this week that Whitehill Bordon in Hampshire, St Austell in Cornwall, Rackheath in Norfolk and North-west Bicester in Oxfordshire would share the cash to build up to 600 show homes.

Healey revealed £60m fund this week
Healey revealed £60m fund this week

The homes will house 2,000 people, and create 2,000 construction jobs.

Prime minister Gordon Brown had originally said 10 eco-towns of between 5,000 and 20,000 homes would be built. However, there are continued fears over whether any of the original plans will see the light of day, because of the depressed housing market and opposition from the Tories.

Ian Tant, planning consultant at Barton Willmore, which worked on a number of the eco-town bids, said: “Getting the private sector to commit to this kind of scheme is a challenge.”

In addition, one of the four, Whitehill Bordon, is still waiting for approval from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to get access to the land for the scheme. It received £10.7m this week for “early wins”, which should include a design competition for four show homes and five demonstration sites.

However, the land for part of the scheme is dependent on a review by the MoD, which aims to consolidate its facilities on a site in south Wales.

Wendy Shillam, project manager for Whitehill Bordon, said: “The MoD needs sign-off on its project before we can access the land. But we’re on the point of signing a memorandum of understanding of how we will pool the land and share profits when the move gets the go-ahead.”

The news comes as a report by the Zero Carbon Hub found that a national campaign marketing the benefits of low-carbon housing was needed to persuade people to buy them. It said homebuyers were “unwilling to pay for sustainable features which they consider as expensive and unproven”.