Rackheath is the only proposal to receive a top rating in communities department consultation

A new town proposed by a consortium of Norfolk councils has emerged as the frontrunner to be selected as the first of the government's eco-towns.

Plans for Rackheath were the only set of twelve eco-town proposals to be assessed by the communities department to receive an “A” classification in its second consultation on eco-towns, published today.

The proposals were rated A, B, or C according to how well they fit the criteria. An “A” rating meant the proposal was on a site “generally suitable for an eco-town.” One other proposal, Weston Otmoor in Oxfordshire, got a “C” rating, with all the other ten receiving “B”. The communities department defined “C” as: “Location only likely to be suitable as an eco-town with substantial and exceptional innovation.”

The ratings follow an assessment of locations for eco-towns, which have attracted widespread opposition, by consultants working for the communities department. Announcing the consultation, housing minister Margaret Beckett gave the strongest hint so far that, as widely expected, the government is unlikely to press ahead with 10 eco-towns, as originally intended by prime minister Gordon Brown.

Beckett said:"I believe it is vital we get the locations for these eco-towns right, and the shortlist has been refined to reflect the results of the most detailed assessment to date on these potential locations. But I do not expect all of these locations to go forward - the eco-town standards are tough and I think some of these shortlisted schemes could struggle to meet them. Everyone has the opportunity to have their say on these proposals, both now and in the future when planning applications are received."

The consultation includes a draft planning statement on eco-towns which sets out the standards that communities will have to meet. An eco-town will have to be carbon-neutral across the whole settlement and give up 40% of space to green areas.

The communities department also said that proposals for an eco-town in an already urban location, being put forward by the Leeds city region, would be taken forward in place of earlier plans.