Communities department rethinks programme, amid fears sites will not survive planning process

Government officials are discussing the possibility of announcing more than 10 eco-towns amid fears that not all of the projected schemes will make it through the planning process.

The communities department last month shortlisted 15 potential sites for the 10 eco-towns announced by Gordon Brown last autumn. It said at the time a final decision on 10 sites, alongside new planning guidance on eco-towns, would be issued later this year.

However, a source close to the department said some officials are arguing that more than 10 preferred sites should be chosen. The source said: “This is definitely something they’re thinking about – going for 12 or 13 rather than 10, because some will inevitably be challenged.”

The eco-town plans have already met with vigorous local opposition, and have attracted widespread media coverage and celebrity protesters.

Gideon Amos, director of the Town and Country Planning Association, said: “We think there’s a case for continuing to look at more than 10 locations on the basis that not all will make it through the planning process.”

The news comes as campaigners against the planned Middle Quinton eco-town in Warwickshire have instructed solicitors SJ Berwin to help them challenge the process.

Leicestershire council has already indicated it is likely to launch a legal challenge against the proposed Pennbury development.

In addition, bosses at Cambridgeshire Horizons, an agency set up by the government to ensure the delivery of the 47,000 homes planned in the area by 2016, have detailed their opposition to a local eco-town proposal.

Alex Plant, chief executive, said the shortlisted 8,000-home eco-town at Hanley Grange would jeopardise existing development plans, coming in addition to plans for a new town at Northstowe, outside Cambridge. He said anything further would make current plans unviable: “We’re having to divert limited resources to fight Hanley Grange, rather than promoting growth.”

A spokesperson for the communities department said: “We are going ahead with the eco-towns programme as planned.”