Cornwall unveils plans for Britain's first 'eco-town'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 May, 2010, 12:00am

In southwest England, the Cornwall Council is considering a development strategy for Britain's first 'eco-town'. Built on a 700-hectare site that encompasses six disused clay- mining pits and adjacent villages close to Cornwall's south coast, the new town will be called Eco-Bos. 'Bos' is Cornish for home.

Historically, Cornish settlements have been small in scale, and in keeping with this tradition, Eco-Bos will not be a large, single urban space, but an arc of redeveloped villages to the north and east of Cornwall's biggest town, St Austell, with a population of 22,000.

The redevelopment plan envisages the creation of 5,000 new homes, new shops and businesses, and public amenities, to be built in the disused pits. Development will take place in phases over several decades so that the local economy and housing market remains balanced.

Eco-Bos developers include Egypt's Orascom Development, which builds new towns; French clay miner, Imerys, which owns sites where the eco-town will be built; and conservation charity, the Eden Project, which built the world's largest geodesic domes in a former clay pit near St Austell.

'Our focus is on providing alternatives for people to make viable decisions about living in a more sustainable way,' said John Hodkin, director of Imerys. 'For example, walkable neighbourhoods with shops and local facilities to avoid the need to travel everywhere for basic provisions and services.'

Residents will have access to 500 hectares of green space and a marina. Working from home will be encouraged by installing high-speed broadband internet connections - one element in a plan to make Eco-Bos a green business hub.

Green industries may include food production and the manufacture of electric cars, solar power equipment and sustainable building materials from surplus aggregates, said Hodkin. Local sources of geothermal energy will power the town. Improved public transport links will integrate St Austell with the former pit villages to create an 'eco-zone'.

The Cornwall Council plans to establish Britain's first solar energy park and council-run wind farms.

Partly funded by the government, planning permission for Eco-Bos will be sought later this year with construction work scheduled to begin next year. Five more eco-towns are being designed as part of the previous Labour government's plan to have 10 built in Britain.

St Austell mayor Brian Palmer said Eco-Bos would help regenerate his town, which had been hit by job losses as a result of the decline of clay mining. 'We have a chance to find something new, to develop knowledge-based industries and create well-paid jobs,' he said.

The plan might help the area's property market where a two-bedroom cottage in an inland village near St Austell currently costs about ?100,000 (HK$1.12 million), Mark Lewis, partner at St Austell-based Lewis Property Consultants, said. 'I very much like the idea of my home town ... becoming the centre of power it once was,' he said.

Other regeneration projects include the restoration of a 17-hectare country estate on the edge of St Austell where Cornish developer CMR is building a hotel and 60 detached holiday homes set in woodland.

Prices start at GBP299,000 for a fully furnished, two-bedroom house.