Forcing eco-towns to submit planning applications in the same way as other major developments could threaten their financial viability, consultants fear.

The proposal is made in the government’s draft Eco-towns Planning Policy Statement (PPS) which is out for consultation.

David Pitcher, a director of consultancy the Energy Centre for Sustainable Communities, said: “The new PPS says planning applications have to demonstrate how an eco-town will achieve zero-carbon status. This creates more front loading on the costs and means that in order to meet the planning system requirements developers have to lay out more money upfront than the existing system already demands – even before they know if they have planning permission.

“In effect they will be paying their consultants, architects, energy advisers and so on, from the very beginning while the project is still at risk.”

The consultation, which runs until 19 February, covers the suitability of 12 proposed locations for eco-towns including Rackheath in Norwich and St Austell in Cornwall.