Support for 'eco-quarter' could bring forward A428 dualling

PLANS for a 5,000-home eco-quarter in St Neots have been given the nod by Whitehall. Huntingdonshire District Council, which sent details of its plan for a site to the south of the A428 last month, has not been told officially that the idea has been war

PLANS for a 5,000-home "eco-quarter" in St Neots have been given the nod by Whitehall.

Huntingdonshire District Council, which sent details of its plan for a site to the south of the A428 last month, has not been told officially that the idea has been warmly received by senior Government officials, but not yet seen by Ministers.

But Alex Plant, chief executive of Cambridgeshire Horizons - the company set up by local authorities and government agencies to oversee delivery of £4billion infrastructure needed for 50,000 new homes in the Cambridge sub-region by 2021 - told The Hunts Post that Whitehall had given the plan "a warm nod of support".

The proposal is in addition to the 10 "eco-towns" the Government wants to see developed in England, but Mr Plant stressed that it was not seen as a substitute for the abandoned plan for such a development at Hinxton, called Hanley Grange.


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"These are proposed additional homes in an area of pressing housing need," Mr Plant said.

The Government has indicated that there will be additional funding available for installing eco-technology, such as combined heat and power schemes or ground-source heating, but has not yet said what or how big the pot will be.

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"I expect some sort of designation of that part of St Neots as a sustainable eco-quarter - a sort of 'lite' version of the eco-towns. But civil servants are still in discussions with Ministers. It would probably still come through the 'growth fund' pot, possibly with some ring-fenced funding, but that's still to be decided. We shall certainly be bidding for it."

The news took the Highways Agency by surprise at Horizons' board meeting in Cambourne last week.

Regional director Gwyn Drake said: "The Highways Agency is not signed up to the St Neots eco-development by 2010/11. The A428 there is the only bit of single carriageway [between Cambridge and Bedford].

"You could argue that an eco-development or an eco-town does not generate any additional traffic. But life isn't like that."

But that does not rule the idea out. Although dualling there is not in the agency's list of schemes up to 2015, there are ways to bring the scheme forward, he told the board.

European funding can probably be ruled out even though Brussels acknowledges that a significant proportion of the lorry traffic on the A14 and A428 originates in continental Europe, and the A14 is part of one of the Trans-European Networks.

"They understand the point we are making," Mr Plant told the board. "Their funding preoccupation is with roads in Eastern Europe that are little more than dirt tracks."

St Neots is earmarked to take a large proportion of 11,200-plus additional homes assigned to Huntingdonshire between 2001 and 2021, with the Loves Farm area taking much of the expansion to the north of the A428. The eco-quarter proposal is for greenfield land to the south of the road.

Huntingdonshire District Council's head of planning services, Steve Ingram, said he had had no official notification from Whitehall.

"When we get something in writing, I want to master-plan it properly because there's already going to be growth there.

"To be sustainable the area needs homes, jobs, community facilities, good links to the town and so on. That's already happening for the expansion, and the eco-quarter would be part of that.

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