Thursday, 10 April 2008

Eco towns bad? Eco homes better

I’m quite interested in the government’s proposal to build ten new "Eco towns" by the year 2020. You won't hear me saying this often about anything the government does but I think, in principle, it is a great idea. It seems sensible to regulate the building industry to mandate that new homes use less gas, mains electricity and piped water than conventional houses. The proviso is that you don’t have to spend so much (in terms of energy, materials or money) on solar panels, geothermal heating, wind turbines or water recycling that the savings never pay back the initial investment. All new houses should be made that way, not just ones in eco towns.

It will be interesting to see how the towns are laid out and what provisions are made for people to get around. It is all very well talking about car free town centres, 15mph speed limits and park-and-ride bus routes but surely town planners can do better than that. Maybe there is a way that shops and businesses can be distributed within the new towns to reduce the need for transport, whether private or public. Where it is necessary to travel, the links should allow fast, easy access to the rest of the transport network.

One of the proposed sites, Middle Quinton, is not too far from my home. It is an unusual site for a new town as it is in the middle of nowhere. The nearest "big" town, Stratford-upon-Avon isn't that big and there aren't any large employers nearby. To get to the nearest motorway (M40) you need to go through Stratford (not much fun at peak times). At least the site is connected to the rail network but the line would need serious investment to make it worthwhile for passenger traffic. With the necessary investment in infrastructure the new towns will be a success; without it they will be an expensive series of follies.

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