Eco-towns are a response to climate change, the need for more sustainable, zero carbon living and the housing shortage, particularly of affordable housing. They are intended as pilot schemes for more ecologically friendly home building and as an opportunity for large scale construction of modern affordable housing.
1. Affordable housing is aimed at local people who cannot afford to buy housing at market prices. Such people may be on a council waiting list or may be identified by the council's 'housing needs survey' eg numbers of local people in income groups which would preclude their buying housing at market rates.
2. A local authority will state the required percentage of affordable housing in their local plan (now 'local development framework') for new developments above 15 dwellings. The going rate is 30% - 50%. Most local authorities in our area would require 33%.
3. What constitutes 'affordable housing' is then a matter for negotiation between the LA and the developer. This forms part of a Section 106 negotiation which will also cover contributions to roads, schools and any other infrastructure arising from the proposed development. It may include different tenures (eg. rented or shared equity) and different levels of subsidy (eg land for free, land at infrastructure release cost, land at 50% market value or land at market value with the price of homes being kept lower through economical construction / specs.)
4. The government has trialed an alternative method to these negotiations in Milton Keynes through their regeneration agency, English Partnerships. This effectively sets a 'roof tax' of a fixed amount on each dwelling. John Walker was a central figure in this exercise and is now regarded as an expert on infrastructure costs.
At Weston Otmoor, the deal on affordable housing would be important for the viability of the scheme. If 50% affordable housing at land for free were required, that would halve the revenue from the residential component leaving less profit for expensive infrastructure such as rail or motorway junctions!
It is also interesting to note that the government has decreed that all housing built after 2016 shall be zero-carbon. This has been estimated by EP research to cost an additional £25k per dwelling above construction costs which meet current building regulations (Code for Sustainable Homes level 6 rather than 3). It would be a true 'eco-con' if eco-town status permitted this standard to be dropped (as suggested recently by Caroline Flint - I suspect she has been told that the sums aren't adding up) while other development had to be built to the higher standard. Parkridge will have a financial spreadsheet which, if they were to be held to delivering 50% affordable, and all housing to be zero-carbon, is unlikely to be viable.