Eco towns may delay previously chosen housing sites coming forward, says Eversheds' Webb, while LG's Turnbull says the Government will get its way despite local protest.

The planning system and eco towns sit unhappily together, according to prominent planning experts at London law firms.

Stephen Turnbull, planning partner at LG (Lawrence Graham), said that opposition from local campaigners to Eco-towns in their area would be doomed to failure because the Secretary of State would have the last word in any row.

“There may well be a lot of skirmishes because a number of local authorities and residents’ groups could be vehemently opposed … but under the existing planning system, the Government has a host of weapons in its armoury. It’s hard to see how anything can stop the Government getting its way.”

And those who own land who are unwilling to sell would also lose, he said. “[They] could be forced to [sell] by their local authority issuing a compulsory purchase order (CPO). And although landowners can fight this through the courts, the decision rests with the Secretary of State.

Meanwhile, Stephen Webb, planning partner at Eversheds, said that eco towns could prejudice existing sites chosen by Local Authorities as part of their 5-15 year housing targets. Eco-towns were originally slated to be in addition to these housing targets, but will now count towards them.

“The result could that be that if certain eco towns proceed they may prejudice or delay existing sites identified through the statutory planning process. Rather than speeding up delivery of housing numbers, this may result in confusing about which sites should come forward and when.” Webb also warms of legal challenges from developers as they attempt to protect their positions.

Webb recommends a realignment of the process with the planning system: “What’s needed after identifying the eco towns is a process of proper consultation as part of the emerging development framework or under the auspices of a local delivery agency for the are to ensure that exiting identified sites are not prejudiced.

“Eco towns clearly have an important role to play in encouraging sustainable living buy should not be seen as a quick fix solution to a cumbersome planning system.”

Eversheds is representing the developers Northstowe new town, a 9,5000 ‘sustainable new town’ in planning with South Cambridgeshire council since December.