Coltishall site on eco-town short list

The fate of the former airbase at RAF Coltishall took yet another new twist yesterday when the government announced the site had made it on to a shortlist of possible locations for an 'eco-town'.

The fate of the former RAF Coltishall has taken yet another twist, with the government announcing that the site has made it on to a shortlist of possible locations for an "eco-town".

Prime Minister Gordon Brown wants Britain to build 10 new eco-towns, and the former base has been confirmed as one of the front-runners.

A shortlist of 15 possible locations includes four in the east of England, although Coltishall is the only one in Norfolk and Suffolk. That list has been drawn up after consideration of 57 proposals received from councils and developers.

Recently it was confirmed that the government department responsible for overseeing the eco-town plans, the Department of Communities and Local Government, had been talking to the Ministry of Justice to assess whether the 10,000 strong eco-town could be built next door to a proposed Category C prison.

Both departments believe it would be within reason for the two uses to sit side by side, a view shared in part by the man behind the eco-town plans, developer Richard Davies.

He said: "We are very privileged to be in the shortlist of 15 and we hope to get through to the next round. As far as the prison is concerned, our team has reviewed our strategy and we are trying to see if the prison would sit comfortably as a short-term measure to help the Ministry of Justice accommodate their urgent needs."

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He said the ideal world was a phased development, one stage of which would be to close the prison once an alternative site had been found, allowing the eco-town to maximise its potential as a "world-class development". Mr Davies added: "In the long term we would prefer, as I think most people in north Norfolk would, there to be an alternative site for the prison."

Mr Davies said the current plan was similar in all but some small detail to the one he outlined in September. The project could see 10,000 homes being built, a hi-tech business park, school, community centre, museum, new broad, waterfront hotel, GP surgery and allotments.

Housing minister Caroline Flint said: "We have a major shortfall of housing, and, with so many buyers struggling to find suitable homes, more affordable housing is a huge priority. To face up to the threat of climate change we must also cut the carbon emissions from our housing.

"Eco-towns will help solve both of these challenges."

The shortlisted locations now face a three-month public consultation and a sustainability appraisal. Schemes will have to reach zero-carbon standards by promoting green technologies, providing plenty of affordable housing and showing how they will deliver key services such as good public transport, schools and health facilities, as well as safeguarding wildlife.

Marcus Armes, from the University of East Anglia-based CRed carbon reduction campaign, said it was delighted that Coltishall was firmly back on the agenda for eco-town status as CRed had floated the idea nearly a year ago. He added: "CRed is ready and willing to help ensure that these zero-carbon developments are as robust in their use of renewables as possible and, importantly, that those purchasing the homes are able to get the

best from the renewable technologies."

But Kate Gordon, of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, was worried about the proposed location of many of the schemes - including the former airbase - which she said was in a remote area that was poorly served by road, had no existing rail link and no employment.